Without their best forward in Wayne Rooney and their best defender in Nemanja Vidic, Manchester United made a fabulous 14th-minute strike from Paul Scholes stand up with a 1-0 victory over Barcelona to win their Champions League semifinal tie.
Patrice Evra put in a man of the match-type performance at left back this afternoon for the Red Devils, shutting down Lionel Messi for more than 90 minutes before being taken off in stoppage time for Mikael Silvestre.
As we all know, the team that deserves to win doesn’t always do in soccer, but Manchester United did just that today. Man for man, United was the better team and I don’t think there can be any denying it. Messi was Barca’s best player, but he was contained very nicely by Evra, as I already mentioned, and Samuel Eto’o was useless up top. Rio Ferdinand had a solid game in the center of United’s defense, and even the much-maligned Wes Brown put in a competent shift.
In truth, Barcelona never looked that threatening going forward. The stats will show that they had the better of possession, but that doesn’t matter. Edwin van der Sar was rarely tested in goal, a tribute to the outstanding work done in the center of the park by United.
Although he may not admit it, Sir Alex Ferguson will feel vindicated for his tactical choices and his team’s mindset in Barcelona last week. He was criticized heavily in the press for going there not to lose and for playing such a boring, unattractive style, but at the end of the day, his team got the job done and for people to not understand that is mind-boggling.
Just because United has a dearth of attacking players doesn’t mean they need to score three goals every game to do what they need to do, and Ferguson went to Barcelona to not concede a goal, take it back to Old Trafford in front of about 75,000 people, and win the tie there. The same people who praise high-flying teams like Arsenal and Barcelona for playing “beautiful football” are the same people who have no room to talk when those teams don’t win trophies, which the Gunners haven’t in the last three seasons and Barca won’t this year. It doesn’t matter how you play as long as you get the result you want.
For the first time in Champions League history, it will be an all-English final. Who will join United in Moscow on May 21? My money is still on Liverpool, but Chelsea has the advantage going into tomorrow’s second leg at Stamford Bridge.