Barcelona 0-0 Manchester United: Cristiano Ronaldo Misses Spot-Kick, Boredom Wins (UEFA Champions League Semi-Finals, Leg 1)

Who would have thought it possible? A game with the prestige of Barcelona vs. Manchester United, two teams universally geared towards scoring goals and producing spectacular plays, ended 0-0. Scoreless. Yet, the most unlikely result between the Spanish and English giants was, in the end, the most appropriate (at least based on the two teams’ performance on the field).

Tonight was supposed to be about “Ronaldo vs. Messi” (as displayed by the Nou Camp billboard hanging over the entrance for weeks now), the Premier League champions vs. La Liga’s runners-up, 73 goals vs. 62 in domestic competitions. However while we’re citing statistics, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the 19 EPL goals conceded by the Red Devils this season. That’s right only 19 goals, aka the best Premier League defense of the year. Barcelona tried everything they could tonight, from Eto’o to Iniesta, all the way through Messi (returning from injury) and Henry, but in spite of their staggering 61% ball possession they could just not pierce the thick wall formed by Rio Ferdinand & friends. As for United, the team had their chance when they obtained a penalty kick in the 3rd minute (handball by Gaby Milito), but their talismanic player Cristiano Ronaldo missed his shot from 12 yards.

Undoubtedly, it’s going to be a whole different ball game in 6 days’ time, when Barcelona travel to Manchester for the return leg at Old Trafford. Scoring a goal and avoiding a loss will suffice for the Catalans, but the question is: will the Red Devils let them?

Tactically, both managers presented their teams in a ‘single striker’ formation, although while that role was clearly defined for Barcelona (Samuel Eto’o, assisted by Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta on the wings) the same cannot be said for Man Utd. Indeed, Sir Alex Ferguson fielded a team which, in theory, claimed to be a 4-4-1-1 (with Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez at the front of the attack), but where in practice the English forward was forced to cover a midfield role, on account of the heavy ‘catenaccio’ tactics adopted by the Scottish manager.

3 minutes after the kick-off, tonight’s match could have taken a whole different direction, had Cristiano Ronaldo scored his penalty kick (given by Swiss referee Massimo Busacca for a Milito handball inside the box). Indeed with Manchester leading by one goal, Barcelona would have been forced to really push forward, uncover themselves, take risks, and potentially concede a second one on a United counter-attack. Neutral spectators would have been grateful however, because they would been witnesses to some attacking football.

Instead, the Portuguese winger sent his strike wide (skimming the woodwork actually), and the match stayed scoreless (and entertainment-less) pretty much until the final whistle. Sure, there were the odd Cristiano Ronaldo dribble and Lionel Messi sombrero here and there… but scoring chances? Effectively zero. I guess Sir Alex really learned from his semi-final mistakes the previous year (when AC Milan managed to score two at Old Trafford and three at the San Siro), as the Man Utd players were litterally defending with 10 men behind the ball. Even Tévez and Rooney were sacrificed in midfielder (sometimes defender!) roles, and the only noteworthy event of the first half (other than the Ronaldo PK miss) was a 30th minute Rafael Márquez nudge on the Portuguese winger, inside the Barcelona box. Busacca waved play on.

In the second half, the home team decided it was time to increase the tempo. True masters at keeping ball possession and circulating the ball, Barcelona tried to send their nº9 striker in good position to finish, but alas it wasn’t Samuel Eto’o's night: on the first opportunity, the Cameroon player missed the pass for a wide open Messi, and on the second (following a great Messi-Iniesta backheel combo) he slammed his shot on the outer part of the goal mesh. Still no goals.

Around the hour mark, Barça coach decided to safeguard Leo Messi (still not in perfect conditions) and insert teen sensation Bojan Krkić. This was shortly followed by the Thierry Henry-Deco substitution, but the newcomers did very little to upset the match balance: up to the final whistle, the only activity of Van der Sar ended up being two moderate shots by the ex-Arsenal forward (first on a free-kick, then on a slamming shot from outside the box). No hair-pulling stuff mind you, just enough from keeping the Nou Camp spectators from falling asleep. On the other end however, we could hear Victor Valdes’s snoring all the way over to Montreal…

One thing’s for sure, it just won’t be the same type of match next week at Old Trafford. Both teams will be forced to score to go through, but perhaps Barcelona will be at a slight advantage. Some say that hosting the second leg is better, but others (myself included) maintain just the opposite. Indeed, playing the second leg away makes any goal that you score count double, and this factor is all the more important when the result from the first leg is 0-0. Either way, for the sake of neutrality I expect plenty of goals to be scored, because anything less from Manchester and Barcelona would be a real shame.

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FC Barcelona BARCELONA-MAN UTD
0-0
[Match Highlights]
Manchester United F.C.
GOALSCORERS: /
BARCELONA (4-3-3): V.Valdes – Zambrotta, Márquez, G.Milito, Abidal – Xavi, Y.Touré, Deco (77’ Henry) – Messi (62’ Krkic), Eto’o, Iniesta. (bench: J.Pinto, Thuram, Sylvinho, Gudjhonsen, Dos Santos). Coach: Rijkaard.
MANCHESTER UTD (4-5-1): Van der Sar – Hargreaves, R.Ferdinand, Brown, Evra – Park, Scholes, Rooney (76’ Nani) Carrick, C.Ronaldo – Tévez (85’ Giggs). (bench: Kuszczak, Piqué, O’Shea, Silvestre, Anderson). Coach: Ferguson

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  • One Response to “Barcelona 0-0 Manchester United: Cristiano Ronaldo Misses Spot-Kick, Boredom Wins (UEFA Champions League Semi-Finals, Leg 1)”

    1. [...] Note: Match Report of the first leg (Barcelona 0-0 Manchester United) here.  [...]