Today’s ED couldn’t give two hoots whether Nani’s raised boot on Alvaro Arbeloa was a yellow-and-a-half or the sort of tragedy Ken Loach would cough up.
UEFA’s decision to back their man in black and censure United for Sir Alex Ferguson’s post-match no-show (what does he think this is, La Liga?) both came as no surprise ED, who would have sent Nani off solely for tarting about after realising he was in deep trouble.
But that is irrelevant when considering the real question, which is ‘why did Manchester United fall to pieces in the quarter-hour spell after their fancy-dan winger got sent off’?
The most obvious impact Nani’s dismissal had was that of massively unsettling, unnerving and un-Uniteding the nine remaining outfield players who, like their boss on the sidelines, withdrew into a very British spell of self-destructive apoplexy, which in football is largely manifested by a backs-against-the-wall rear-guard action with little to no tactical responsiveness.
It was not until Real Madrid had scored their second goal that Sir Alex Ferguson decided to readjust tactically – and by ‘readjust’ ED does not mean asking Danny Welbeck to track back a little more.
Real’s second goal came from smart play by Gonzalo Higuain down their right wing; the right which translates as United’s left, where – for all his playfulness – Nani was stifling the overlapping runs of Alvaro Arbeloa, and ably protecting Patrice Evra, which ironically was his role at the time of his dismissal.
Higuain’s move was no different to one he had unsuccessfully executed minutes earlier, with an identical fizzing delivery across the six-yard box evading attackers and defenders alike; indeed, the only marked difference between those two incidents was that the second cross saw Cristiano Ronaldo gamble with a far post run.
Clearly the moment Nani was dismissed the entire United gameplan should have been about minimising the impact of his removal from the field of play; Robin van Persie had been ineffectual, in keeping with his recent slump in form, yet he lasted the full 90 minutes. He should have been removed, immediately, and replaced with a view to covering the left.
Eventually United adjusted, but it was too late and they were chasing the game against 11 men with an inspired keeper in tow. When it matters most, no-one was thinking straight – Fergie could barely contain his desire to raise the Armenian question.
And that, on a wider level, should be a concern for United.
ED thinks it hugely unlikely that Manchester City can catch United this season, as they did the last. The gap is simply too big and, despite his dampened pizazz, Van Persie will likely have another good run in the Spring. United may have City, Chelsea and Arsenal to come but that’s nine points the 12 they need to lose on the opposition; not on your nellie. But next season the competition may not be so forgiving.
The odds of next season’s title race being so one-sided are as long as City’s are of making up the ground on United in the next 10 games. These kinds of implosions under pressure cannot be allowed to reach repetitive, chronic status. As Arsenal have found, the competition improves and there will be a point when such lapses are clinically exploited.
ED has no doubt that Fergie will find a solution to this problem – he always does. But next season there will be far greater injustices than that slightly harsh red card for him to manage, and possibly even before the end of this campaign.
And with a hungry City, stable Chelsea (with a big-hitter in charge), buoyant Spurs and quite possibly rejuvenated Liverpool panting at their tails, the league table may not be so forgiving – not to mention the gazillions of petrodollars flowing into the continental game.
United need to move on, and fast.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"Some of them want to progress their careers, maybe outside Scotland, and it's difficult to stop that progression. We'll see how they are at the end of the season, we still have a championship to win and the Cup but this has been an incredible experience for them" – Celtic boss Neil Lennon reflects on a successful Champions League campaign. More concerning for ED is how his players get up in the morning with no Rangers to keep the post-European season remotely inspiring. Answers on a postcard please (no packages).
"He is one of the best midfielders in Europe right now." - Carlo Ancelotti on one of his Paris St-Germain midfielders. Nope, not David Beckham, but France international Blaise Matuidi, who helped the French capital club to a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League last night. While Becks sat on the bench.
This is where it gets interesting – the Europa League is in the last-16 stage, and there are some big games in store, Tottenham’s rematch with Internazionale a Bale-tastic clash at 8.05pm. Chelsea also visit Steaua Bucharest (6pm), while Newcastle head east to meet Anzhi (5pm).