Posts Tagged ‘Manchester United’

Premier League Predictions 2011/2012

August 9, 2011 1 comment


(You can view last year’s predictions here)

In comparison with previous years, many of the upper echelon have readily felt the need to reach for the chequebook. Manchester City can now use Champions League football to entice players and the signing of Sergio Agüero is the biggest indication yet that they may about to embark on a serious pursuit for the title. But Manchester United have taken another step in their evolution and last week’s Community Shield proved that they are once again the side to beat.

Champions – Manchester United

The team that recorded its 19th league title wasn’t particularly spectacular and in comparison with previous years, the only fireworks were saved for the title’s presentation. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were unflappable, churning out victories without the cavaliering style of previous title-winning squads. The winning mentality which has defined Ferguson’s reign was crucial and the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Edwin van der Sar had the nous to see them over the line. Javier Hernández proved to be the signing of the season and Nani’s emergence as a world-class star did inject some excitement.

United's new arrivals

But Ferguson knew that to stay ahead of the pack, particularly ahead of City, he’d need to reinvest, to rejuvenate. Scholes and van der Sar hung up their respective boots and gloves and squad players Wes Brown and John O’Shea were moved on. In came the fresh talent, Ashley Young, David de Gea and Phil Jones. Furthermore, academy products Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley have flown home to roost. All are young, promising individuals keen to be moulded by Ferguson, a man who is in his element working with youth.

The voids left by Scholes and van der Sar are concerns. De Gea will be compensation for the loss of the latter and his progress will be one of the season’s talking points. Scholes’ departure may prove an all-together different proposition. Replacing a player with such technical traits is virtually impossible. So United will look to the energetic Anderson to replicate Nani’s breakout season last term and the pre-season promise that Cleverley has displayed will provide further hope.

Few would ever bet against Ferguson and he appears to have the right blend of experience, energy and excitement to stay in-front once more.

Top Four – Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool

Little has been written about Chelsea this term and perhaps that is a good thing. André Villas-Boas is an intelligent man with an incredible football brain but he must be given time and space to work his magic at this elite level. The Portuguese manager built an extraordinary team at Porto but has made few alternations since arriving at Stamford Bridge. However the biggest difference which must occur is internal. They must change their mentality and Villas-Boas seems like the right man to do so. He will be able to call upon title-winning experience and that is the reason why they will be United’s biggest challengers. Like United they will be keen to develop tomorrow’s generation today and Daniel Sturridge, Josh McEachran and the incoming Romelu Lukaku are exciting protégées.

Manchester City will feel that they have a chance to win the league this season but those aspirations may be 12 months premature. The alluring nature of Champions League football will capture plenty of their attention and look at how that deterred Spurs from their domestic campaign. Then there is the small matter of Carlos Tévez. The Argentine forward was incredibly valuable to City’s success last year and should he depart, they must find inspiration elsewhere. Sergio Agüero is a magnificent coup but Tévez’s boots are sizeable things to expect him to instantly fill. There are also lots of City players who are aggrieved at not getting a first-team chance. Those simmering tensions remain under the lid when City are winning but expectation is higher this year and Roberto Mancini may have a revolt on his hands if he doesn’t bring in more silverware.

Will Tevez pass Aguero the baton?

When Kenny Dalglish rolled up at Anfield once more last January, the club were in disarray. The King managed to completely transform that and they finished the season looking stronger than almost any other side in the league. They have been one of the most active teams in this transfer window and have made some good if not spectacular moves. Their policy of buying English may cause them to pay over the odds but it is an ideology which proved so fruitful for Dalglish at Blackburn. They also have Luis Suárez who, in my view, is one of the best strikers in the game and may just finish this season as the Premier League’s top scorer.

Many people are predicting Arsène Wenger’s savvy nature will ensure Arsenal don’t drop out of the top four but I’ve seen little evidence that they’ve progressed. Cesc Fàbregas and Samir Nasri could well depart and they are still crying out for an authoritative centre-back, powerful midfielder and experienced goalkeeper. A sadly familiar story is becoming tiresome and Wenger is going to have to fight hard to convince his players, the fans and the media that his philosophy will bring glory to The Emirates.

As for Tottenham, this could be a really difficult season at White Hart Lane. In many ways the Luka Modrić saga is a lose-lose situation. If the Croatian stays, they have a disgruntled player in their ranks. If he departs, Spurs will fall further behind whilst simultaneously strengthening one of their rivals. Then there is Harry Redknapp whose demeanour has become increasingly strange over the past 12 months. He has publically criticised Spurs fans in the media on more than one occasion and appears to have lost a certain zest when it comes to managing the team. Fabio Capello’s heir apparent is probably less than a year away from the England job and it could be difficult for him to maintain focus on events at Tottenham.

Surprise Package – Aston Villa

This summer has been far from a haven for Aston Villa. Chairman Randy Lerner, a man who had previously been heralded for his stewardship, bumbled through the process of hiring a new manager before deciding on Alex McLeish. The former Birmingham boss managed to create a unique sense of togetherness between the second-city rivals in the form of shared hatred of the Scot. McLeish did take Birmingham to relegation last year and any concerns about the new season were further enhanced when Brad Friedel, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing jumped board.

But there are plenty of rays of sunshine emanating from the doom mongering over the Holte End. Firstly, McLeish IS a good manager. He captured the Carling Cup last season and built a solid unit which was difficult to break down at St Andrew’s. A lack of investment proved their downfall but he has already been allowed access to Lerner’s wallet in his new position. Shay Given is a top-quality goalkeeper who is reliable and consistent. His assured performances should bolster a defence which went from solid to porous within 12 months. The absence of Young and Downing will allow Marc Albrighton to continue to blossom and Charles N’Zogbia has the potential to win matches virtually single-handedly as he did countless times at Wigan. Throw in the ever dependable Darren Bent and you have the crux of a decent side.

Villa will bank on Bent's goals

Villa’s initial run of fixtures is even more heart-warming. They face only one side who finished in the top six last year in their first 11 games and that doesn’t come until October. McLeish’s baptism of fire may prove to be little more than the flickering of a candle.

Relegation – QPR, Swansea, Blackburn

These three will be expecting a dogfight, elsewhere, West Brom have made some clever signings, Bolton should have enough class and Wolves’ squad looks strong enough to remain above the pit. Of the three promoted sides, Norwich could spring some surprises. Carrow Road will be rammed full of partisan crowds every other weekend and Paul Lambert’s squad know nothing other than winning under him following back-to-back promotions. They will be handed thrashings on occasion but should pick up enough points at home to ensure survival. Wigan continue to astound given their tiny stature but Roberto Martínez deserves plenty of plaudits for the side he has built. The loss of Charles N’Zogbia will be felt but there is an infectious excitement about Victor Moses and he should repeat N’Zogbia’s match-winning performances from the left wing.

QPR were magnificent in their Championship winning season but the emotion involved in that triumph may have sapped them. Neil Warnock appears an exasperated man this off-season and hasn’t been backed with the type of funds his owners could quite easily part with. Old-timers Shaun Derry and Clint Hill were stalwarts in the second tier but surely the step up will prove too much. Adel Taarabt and Alejandro Faurlín are wonderful ball-players and in D.J. Campbell and Jay Bothroyd, goals shouldn’t be hard to come by. But will it be enough?

Swansea finished last season in-form and their Premier League status will probably hinge on Scott Sinclair’s performances. Sinclair set the Championship alight but he has struggled when faced with Premier League defences before. There is still time for Swansea to make some moves in the transfer market but they know they will face an uphill task regardless.

Blackburn are quickly growing into the Premier League’s punch line (see this Venky’s advert for further evidence). They clung on by the skin of their teeth last May and will be grasping for enamel once more. Phil Jones wisely jumped board and there are enough suitors for Christopher Samba to believe that Rovers will need a whole new centre-back pairing. With changes at the back they will need a steady stream of goals and none of the current crop looks good enough to keep them from sinking.

You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.

Dear Diary, a week in the life of…Wes Brown

July 10, 2011 1 comment

This is the first in a brand new series called “Dear Diary, a week in the life of…” which will take a satirical swipe at the escapades of a football figure in the news. Wes Brown opens up this new feature following his move from Sunderland and speaks of his desire to leave behind John O’Shea who had other ideas…

Dear Diary, I expected this week’s entry to be a lot more positive. Finally, after years of having to put up with John O’Shea, I managed to leave him and join Sunderland.

Next day, I switch on Sky Sports News and who do I find parading round in a Sunderland strip? Sheasy. He’s grinning like a moron. I barely lasted a day without him.

I’d told Sheasy I’d been picked to go to the World Cup and being Irish he had no idea it wasn’t on this summer. Danny Welbeck told me all about Sunderland, said it was far enough away so Sheasy wouldn’t follow me. I thanked Danny for his Catch Me If You Can DVD as I left United.

Brown trying hard to escape from O'Shea.

Sunderland seemed an obvious choice. I like Steve Bruce and he’s impressed with how many England caps I’ve got. If he kicks off I know I can keep him quiet by telling him I’ll give him one for free. Can’t believe that tactic only worked for Darren Fletcher and Andy Goram at Old Trafford.

I’ve wanted to leave ever since Paul Scholes announced his retirement. It’s no fun being ginger at the best of times but once I knew I was going to be the only one left, things changed. Had a bit of a chat with Wayne Rooney about how we were easy targets for abuse on the hair front now. He went for a hair transplant; I decided I’d just go to Sunderland. At least I’ve got Jack Colback here to keep me company. Told him I’d batter him if he dyes his locks, think the message got through.

I met some of the boys in the canteen on my first day. Lee Cattermole crushed a Capri Sun with his hand and told me he’s going to break my nose. Anton Ferdinand assured me it’s a sign of acceptance and told me I should see what he says to those he doesn’t like. I felt uneasy but laughed it off.

Next day Sheasy signed and the atmosphere changed. I heard some murmuring as I went into the canteen; it’s Kieran Richardson and Phil Bardsley blaming me for bringing him here. Am guessing the grapes that hit me came from them. Am guessing the flying chair which just missed my head came from Cattermole.

Onto training and Sheasy stuck to me like glue. It’s like when your mum tells you to walk to school with the nerdy kid because she’s friends with their parents. Meanwhile he tried to recruit people for the Ireland squad. Asking Steed Malbranque if his parents are from Cork is one thing but mentoring Asamoah Gyan on a river dance is a bit far. Cattermole told Sheasy he’s going to break his nose. I’m not sure it’s a term of endearment this time.

After training Sheasy told me Darron Gibson wants to follow him here. He said it’s really annoying when someone just follows you round everywhere. He has no idea.

Debating whether to offer Cattermole a few of my England caps to ‘sort’ Sheasy out. If Gibson gets here too it’s going to be unbearable.

You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.

Sir Alex Ferguson may not need press conferences but the public do

“Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air”

It’s always a little disheartening. As a trainee journalist about to embark on a career I’ve longed for since I could walk, it’s always demoralizing to hear Sir Alex Ferguson has shunned the media once again. The chance to pick the brains of football’s elite has always been one of the added extras so coveted by sports journalists.

The media and press conferences in particular are important to most football managers. Even with the wide variety of sources spouting out news on a regular basis, they still provide managers with a platform to air their views and spread their message to the masses. Fans, who still play a considerable role in deciding a manager’s fate, have an opportunity to read, watch and listen to this and formulate their own opinions as a result. The media plays a considerable part in building a manager up or knocking them down. It remains an instrument which managers can play. Jose Mourinho, Harry Redknapp and Ian Holloway have all greatly enhanced their reputations by charming journalists.

Ferguson has a habit of banning journalists

Of course none of this seems to apply to Ferguson. His lengthy period in charge of Manchester United has rendered the media all but useless to him. He does not need to tell fans his thoughts. He does not need to defend his position. His trophy record and colossal reputation far outweighs any words that a journalist could use to disparage him. And even though he treats their profession with a frankly dismissive attitude, few journalists ever dare question him.

Even so, his decision to try and ban AP’s Rob Harris for a perfectly acceptable question was disappointing. Harris’ question wasn’t loaded, it wasn’t malicious. His job title entitles him to dig a lot further than he did and Ferguson’s ferocious reputation probably dissuaded him from doing so. A simple “no comment” would have sufficed but Ferguson dislikes people questioning his authority. It is probably one of the things which define him as great in the dressing room but it’s another which casts him as rather petulant away from Old Trafford.

Thankfully UEFA implore managers to speak to the press before games so Rob Harris will no doubt be back in front of him come Friday, laptop and all.

If anything Ferguson should consider American sports and the level of access the press are afforded. Interviews take place in locker rooms, on the side of the pitch at half-time and team talks are filmed in a fly on the wall style. Perhaps some of this is too intrusive but it’s most definitely more revealing and fascinating than an interview hosted by an in-house TV company. As sport continues to lurch towards an activity predominantly viewed through a television screen rather than one’s own eyes, perhaps the American model will develop its own permutations on these shores.

The media may need Ferguson more than he needs them but the journalist’s role will continue to flourish. People want more news and more insight especially when it comes to the world’s most popular pastime. Ferguson may not need press conferences but the public do.

You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.

My Favourite Match – Manchester United 7 v 1 A.S. Roma 10/04/2007. Manchester.

By Ollie Jackson

There have been many magical European nights at Old Trafford but few compare with this one from back in 2007. A potent Manchester United decimated a shell shocked Roma on an evening when everything Rooney, Ronaldo et al tried seemed to end up in the back of the net. You can follow Ollie on Twitter @myfootballblog and read more from him and his team at Our Beautiful Game.

‘La Roma non si discute, si ama’. For those of you not familiar with the club from the Eternal City, AS Roma are a football team who pride themselves on adhering to the aforementioned expression, which when translated, reads as follows; Roma is not to be questioned, it is to be loved. Upon interpretation, this is a statement that is designed to ensure that even the most ardent of supporters do not lose faith in their beloved side. For Roma’s Italian supporters remaining devoted is an important quality to possess and no more so than on the 10th April 2007 when the then Roma manger, Luciano Spalletti and his side travelled to Old Trafford, buoyant after conquering the English giants just one week earlier at the Stadio Olympico, in their Champions League quarter final tie.

The highly charged first leg meeting between Roma and Manchester United was witnessed by a capacity crowd of 77,000, who saw their team put two past Sir Alex Ferguson’s men courtesy of Rodrigo Taddei and Mirko Vucinic. Wayne Rooney’s priceless away goal helped ensure the tie remained alive for the second leg which would not involve Paul Scholes after the accomplished midfielder saw red in Rome for two rash tackles.

Despite returning to Manchester defeated, United remained defiant that they could overturn the one goal deficit and secure a place in the Champions League Semi Final.

The Old Trafford scoreboard says it all

Frequent visitors to Old Trafford will know that on a European night under the floodlights, the atmosphere can be so intense, so exhilarating, so emotionally overwhelming that any sign of weakness from the traveling opponents, will be quickly exposed. The United faithful are capable of producing an atmosphere so intimidating that even the most hardened of professionals can quickly be engulfed by the unrepentant waves of vocal support that time and time again inspires the home side to victory.

Prior to the second leg tie on April the 10th 2007, Roma’s notorious supporters clashed with Manchester United fans outside of Old Trafford. It is fair to say that Roma’s fans are not the most popular amongst English supporters, just ask Arsenal, Liverpool and even Middlesborough fans who have all  been targeted by Roma’s Ultras, a well known group of fans intent on causing disruption be it through violence, racist propaganda or political ideologies.

Despite the rising animosity between Manchester United and AS Roma fans prior to kick off, the unrest only served to spur the home support on in a bid to extinguish any confidence that the Italian club might hold heading into the game.

As a devoted Manchester United season ticket holder, I travelled to the game with a great deal of anticipation, knowing that I along with 70,000 home supporters would be needed in order to inspire the team. So, with my scarf in hand I took my seat in the North Stand and unbeknown to me at that moment, I was about to witness one of the finest English displays in Europe.

Knowing that an early goal would unsettle Spaelletti’s side, United began with such intent that many were struggling to keep pace with the action. Much maligned midfielder Michael Carrick opened his Champions League account, scoring with a stunning effort after taking up possession following Cristiano Ronaldo’s infield pass. Upon scoring the first goal there was a real sense of belief amongst the capacity crowd that United would overcome the Italian side. So when Gabriel Heinze proceeded to slip the ball to the feet of Ryan Giggs who in turn produced a wonderfully lofted first time cross to Alan Smith who slotted in United’s second of the game, Old Trafford was in raptures, the sound of unparalleled joy echoed around the stadium. “Magical Manchester United” were the words used by ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley as Wayne Rooney made it 3-0 inside 20 minutes. Safe in the knowledge that his side were going to progress, Sir Alex Ferguson looked on as his side scored another four goals. Ronaldo followed Rooney’s effort with two goals either side of half time, the first of which was a sublime solo effort that beat the helpless Doni at his near post. His second of the game came courtesy of Ryan Giggs who played a magnificent ball that alluded the Roma defence and allowed Ronaldo to secure United’s fifth. Manchester United’s sixth goal was scored by Carrick who surpassed his earlier effort with a quite incredible strike from a distance.

Not even a 69th minute goal from Roma talisman Daniele De Rossi could spare the Italians a humiliating night at the hands of the Red Devils. As if to add insult to injury, Patrice Evra, not known for his goal scoring prowess completed the rout and made it Manchester United 7-1 AS Roma.

On a night whereby Europe’s elite looked on in awe as Manchester United demolished any lingering integrity that the unpopular club once held, attention quickly turned to how in just 90 minutes Ferguson’s side had all but erased the reputation of Serie A. Despite failing to progress to the final after being defeated by AC Milan in the semi final, there was growing confidence around the club that United would soon add to the two European Cups previously acquired in 1968 and 1999. That expectation has been proven right as currently, United are in pole position to compete in their third Champions League final in just four years, after claiming the prestigious crown in 2008, one year on from their captivating performance against Roma at Old Trafford.

I leave you with this, and it is in reference to my opening sentence. ‘La Roma non si discute, si ama’ – On that memorable night in Manchester, United single handedly nullified any lasting significance behind Roma’s cherished motto. It is easy to love a football club, but it is nigh on impossible to not question the ability of your side after suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of one of the most successful domestic clubs to have ever of graced the European stage.

If you would like to be involved in the ‘My Favourite Match’ series, read this post to find out more.

Wayne Rooney’s swearing isn’t the problem, reaction of TV generation is

April 3, 2011 9 comments

“Today, watching TV often means fighting, violence and foul language – and that’s just deciding who gets to hold the remote control”

This blog isn’t a defence of Wayne Rooney. Discussing his decision to adopt an angry and bitter tone is also not the issue here. Rather, this post is one big exasperated sigh at the reaction to swearing on a football field.

Sport invokes emotion, it invokes feeling. At the highest level, where the margins between winning and losing are so small yet their value is so great, it creates an intense pressure. So if you choose to shove a camera in someone’s face, especially a volatile character like Rooney, don’t be shocked at the results.  

Rooney shouldn’t be using that type of vile language they cried, it’ll set a bad example to kids. Now were these same kids subjected to the sights and sounds of any football ground on a Saturday afternoon they’d soon realise Rooney’s verbal repertoire is far from outlandish.  

Scene of the crime

But here lies the problem. This generation is the TV generation. They consume football through a rectangular shaped box, in high pixelated glory and with Martin Tyler narrating the performance they see before them. So footballers in turn are expected to adhere to the 9 o’clock watershed and perform as though they were extras on a soap opera.

The reality of what the atmosphere at a football ground is really like passes most people by. They are blissfully unaware of the verbal jousting between opposition fans and of players’ use of choice language at almost every moment in play. They have never witnessed the one ardent supporter (every club has one) who will spew outrageous statements about a player’s other half or fans’ nocturnal habits involving incest. It’s a rather different education to the one Martin Tyler offers.   

Will it make kids swear more? Possibly, but then if they have strong parents who disapprove of such language, they’ll soon stop. I’ve blogged already on how I think elevating footballers into role models is wrong. If a parent or a peer regularly swears that kid is more likely to copy, if they don’t, they won’t. Whether Wayne Rooney does it or not is ultimately inconsequential.

This was not a case of Rooney disrespecting anyone so to drag up the importance of the Respect campaign is wrong. He was, most probably, addressing his critics. His choice of medium and language were bizarre. That he had just scored a hat-trick of utmost importance said far more.

But this is not about Wayne Rooney; this is about the TV generation who believe they can make judgements from the sanctuary of their sofas. Bringing football to the masses with multiple camera angles, in HD and in 3D is a wonderful thing. But we must remember this is a game. A game played for many years by millions of people. It is not a television drama; it is played by real people not actors. Television records the action, it should not dictate it.

You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn

Snapping and Snarling, The Real Signs Wayne Rooney has Returned

March 2, 2011 1 comment

“I love playing football but I think I am like everyone else, I hate losing and love winning. And if the time comes when I am not disappointed when things are not going right, that’s when people should worry”

The fallout from last night’s pulsating clash between Chelsea and Manchester United centred on the actions of David Luiz, Chris Smalling and Yuri Zhirkov. But it was the manner of the brash and bold performance of Wayne Rooney which really stood out.

Rooney had been the subject of considerable debate before the game after his callous elbow against Wigan went unpunished. He could consider himself very fortunate to be playing against Chelsea but his performance, particularly in the first period didn’t disappoint.

Rooney displayed the passion of old

Rooney looked sharp and hungry. He drove at defenders with the ball, he brought others into play and with Javier Hernandez playing further ahead of him he dropped into some excellent positions. But it was Rooney’s attitude which was even more encouraging.

The passion and the fire were clearly evident. Remonstrating with referees, harrying defenders and becoming exasperated at colleagues, this was the Rooney of old.

If one moment summarised exactly that it was during the second half when he over-hit a crucial pass to Hernandez. Two or three months ago Rooney would have turned around, shoulders slumped and disappeared. But this time the frustration was visible, Sir Alex Ferguson himself probably afforded himself a wry smile.

It’s been a difficult year for Rooney and he has ultimately contributed to his own downfall but Ferguson’s decision to stick by his striker shows how important he remains.

Strikers can dip in and out of form more than most players due to a heavy reliance on goals. But Rooney’s always had more in his locker than just hitting the back of the net. That’s what made his slump in form all the more alarming.

Take Fernando Torres another striker suffering a difficult time. He currently plays with a demeanor which suggests the world is weighing him down. But even he’s at his electrifying best, Torres can drift in and out of games showing little in the way of emotion. He doesn’t radiate the same passion that characterises Rooney’s game.

Many thought the magnificent strike against Manchester City would mark the turning point in Rooney’s fortunes and certainly his form seems to have picked up as a result.

The goals may be slowly returning but it’s the fire inside of him which will really determine if Rooney is getting out of this lengthy rut. Amid all the disappointment and finger pointing which United will no doubt indulge in, Rooney’s performance could be a shining light. A reinvigorated Rooney will be pivotal to United’s final push this season. And next up for the fired up scouser, it’s Liverpool.

My Favourite Match – Juventus 2 v 3 Manchester United 21/04/99. Turin.

February 16, 2011 4 comments

Comebacks have become a trademark of Manchester United in the Sir Alex Ferguson era and never were they more prevalent than this historic season. But this was perhaps the most improbable of them all.

Their domination on the domestic stage was already well established but Europe remained a very different proposition. There was a mystical element around Europe. The Champions League remained a holy grail that just seemed out of Ferguson and United’s reach.

The night itself had all the trimmings of a majestic European night from the misty backdrop to the glorious roars of the Bianconeri’s fans. The rest of Europe seemed considerably more intimidating for English sides in this era.

The mission statement was clear for United. After conceding at Old Trafford the tie was level at 1-1 but Juve’s vital away goal meant United had to at least score. United were well versed in the art of uphill battles, even so, falling behind to two Filippo Inzaghi goals inside eleven minutes appeared catastrophic.

Andy Cole caps a remarkable turnaround

Juventus’ team had an unmistakable aura around them. At the time, there wasn’t that sort of invincibility around United or other English sides in Europe that was to be ushered in during the next decade. When it came to proficient, effective European displays, English sides seemed to be tactically naïve. In stark contrast, Juventus were masters on the European stage. Under Marcelo Lippi they had made the previous three Champions League finals. Furthermore they’d bossed United for large periods at Old Trafford and there was little to suggest that proceedings would be different on Italian soil.

At 2-0 down the outcome should have been obvious. But as we’d seen time and time again and would continue to see, United’s resolve was unbreakable. Nobody typified this more than Roy Keane and this night proved to be his finest in a red shirt.

Keane was booked in the first half and so would miss the final but he remained undeterred. Ferguson would later lavish praise on his captain:

“It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field. Pounding over every blade of grass competing if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player”.

It was Keane whose header got United back in the game and when Dwight Yorke got an equaliser shortly afterwards, United were suddenly in pole position to advance on away goals.

This game adopted a precarious nature with it tentatively poised at 2-2 until late on but both sides had excellent chances. United hit the post twice and the offside flag denied Inzaghi a hat-trick. There was never a question of United sitting back and trying to hold out. It was both a reflection of their attacking prowess and their culpability to concede. They’d scored twenty goals in the group stages that year but had also conceded eleven. At 2-2, United were going through on away goals, yet both Yorke and Cole remained on the pitch. Such a move may be considered bold now but it paid dividends when they combined for a third. Yorke bundled through into the area only to be scythed down by goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi before Cole slotted home. They were on their way to Barcelona which turned out to be an even more memorable and dramatic evening.

United have had more resounding victories but not many more important. Back in 1999, a victory in Italy was a collector’s item for English teams whereas today they are almost common place. This was a breakthrough moment for Ferguson and his men. By beating Juventus in their own backyard, after falling two goals behind, nothing looked beyond that United team. Of course that year, it wasn’t.


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