Wednesday, March 31, 2010


1999 in Reverse

In recent years, there have been few games in the Champions League as thrillingly open as this morning's Bayern Munich v. Manchester United encounter. In more ways than one, the vibrant match was a mirror image of the incredible 1999 final at the Nou Camp.

An early goal for one side, the lead maintained throughout most of the game, and two late goals - one in the last minute of extra time - to turn the tables. But that is only the beginning.

With the ceaselessly incisive Arjen Robben absent, most of the home side's penetration looked likely to come through Franck Ribery on the left. But United sensibly double-teamed the Bayern go-to man for much of the evening, and although he got the drop on an aging Gary Neville once or twice, Ribery never quite forced the openings that Louis van Gaal would have been hoping for.

On the other flank, Hamit Altintop did not pose as much danger, and it was only when Philipp Lahm started to come forward with more regularity in the second half that Bayern posed a serious threat from the right.

Importantly, the charges of Martin Demichelis into midfield were less dangerous than against Fiorentina, largely because United were not being forced to double-team two wingers rather than one.

Ribery played a more important role when he began cutting inside after the break. In Jonathan Wilson's most recent Guardian blog, he looks at the phenomenon of "inside-out" wingers (concentrating, not surprisingly, on the dazzling Lionel Messi), and the shift in Ribery's play as the game wore on bore out Wilson's points aptly.

And...the deciding goal. I've always liked Ivica Olic as a player, not least because he habitually "fights to the finish". He has scored more than his fair share of crucial late goals in his career, and last night's classic piece of opportunism was characteristic.

Rewind eleven years, and what do we have?

A winger (Ryan Giggs) played on his wrong foot and therefore forced to cut inside frequently, because of a key absence (well, two, actually). United offering little on the other wing, where Jesper Blomqvist rarely broke through. Two strikers brought on late, to good effect. Enough parallels there?

United probably still have the upper hand in the tie, but if Bayern can carry their momentum through to the second leg, it could be a memorable night at Old Trafford.

The inside-out winger stuff these days generally drives me frickin' nuts.

Re: Wilson, I think concentrating on Messi in that regard is or will eventually be showed up as kind of mistaken in hindsight. His true calling IMHO is more of a central position (with plenty of license to roam obviously), and this month has actually seen signs of that with Guardiola going to a 4-2-4 with Messi playing off the nine more centrally than he generally has. It's been a great success.

Messi is essentially a second striker for mine and I'd hope his potential success there puts an end to the compromise of them (and some wingers) as inside-out wingers. Wilson's articles are quality but he doesn't argue AGAINST trends enough for my stubborn liking and just...too easily thinks some things are healthy/more progressive. I'd rant more but I havent' got time.
I thought brosque looked pretty good when he played on the right hand side ...

With the quality of crossing we usually get in the a-league, I wouldn`t mind seeing some more guys playing this way.

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