Manchester United 1-0 Barcelona: Paul Scholes Sends Red Devils to Moscow (UEFA Champions League Semi-Finals, Leg 2)

33 years of age and match-winner for Manchester United in the return leg of the UEFA Champions League Semi-Finals vs. Barcelona. Paul Scholes the gladiator. Paul Scholes the veteran. Paul Scholes the long-range specialist: his 14th minute strike from 25 yards (after a messy clearance by Zambrotta) was the only goal of the night, as the Red Devils advance to Moscow for the first ever fully Premiership-coloured Champions League final in the tournament’s history.

Sir Alex Ferguson may have been criticized for his overly defensive tactics in Europe, but in the end, who can blame him for his achievements? His team has conceded only 1 goal in the entire knock-out round of the competion (the 1-1 away match to Lyon), and has qualified for the tournament final. People have often criticized Italian clubs for playing defensive football, but it works. As AC Milan manager Carlo Ancelotti once said: “If you want entertainment, go to the cinema”. ‘Nuff said.

Tactically, Sir Alex Ferguson was dealing with two very big problems at the start of tonight’s match: no Nemanja Vidic, but more importantly no Wayne Rooney. With the young striker picking up a muscle strain in the match vs. Chelsea last week-end, the United manager was forced to change his tactics a bit and field a 4-4-2 formation, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez lone strikers and Owen Hargreaves once again in the right-back position. On the other end, Barça coach Frank Rijkaard stuck to his original plan: no Thierry Henry (benched), striking trio formed by Andres Iniesta, Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi, just like in the first leg.

To be perfectly honest, as the match started the first few minutes of weren’t exactly promising. Tension and anticipation were big for this one, but much like the first leg at the Nou Camp both teams were “afraid” of pushing forward too much, in particular the Red Devils who had to avoid the dreaded “away goal” at all costs. However amidst all the prudence, there was one player who seemed to be saying: “Screw this, I came here to play some attacking football” and that player was Lionel Messi: his constant runs and accelerations gave considerable trouble to the United defense initially, until minute 14 struck.

Recovering the ball on Barcelona’s right wing, Gianluca Zambrotta felt pressured and attempted to clear towards the center. His low pass was however intercepted by Paul Scholes about 30 yards from goal, and the former England international took little time to think where he was going to put it. Slamming shot and whammo, into the top corner with Victor Valdés helpless. 1-0 Man Utd and exactly what Sir Alex was looking for: an early goal.

Scholes’s tally certainly did its part in “waking” the game up, both on the pitch and on the stands, where the 70,000+ Red Devils fans started chanting at the top of their lungs. Galvanized by the crowd and the momentum gathered from scoring, the United players continued to push forward and came very close to extending their lead (through Nani and Ji-Sung Park notably). By the end of the half however, the Blaugrana had taken the upper hand and were keeping Edwin Van der Sar occupied: the runs of Eto’o and Messi, coupled with technique of Deco came dangerously close in giving the catalans the equalizer, especially through the long shots of the Brazilian-turned-Portuguese midfielder (narrowly wide of the post). Despite Barcelona’s best efforts however, the match went to break with Man Utd in the lead.

In the second period a somewhat invisible Cristiano Ronaldo decided to wake up a little, and get a little bit more involved in the Red Devils’ offensives. The real thorn in the Barça side was however his Portuguese colleague Nani, constantly provoking his markers with fakes, dribbles and accelerations (much like Ronaldo should have been doing but couldn’t, due to the close man-marking presence of the two catalan center-backs).

At the hour mark, with Barcelona still unable to muster any significant scoring chance, Rijkaard finally decided to play the Thierry Henry card (on for Iniesta), shortly followed by that of Bojan Krkic (on for an unimpressive Eto’o). Ferguson replied by removing Nani and Scholes and inserting Darren Fletcher and veteran Ryan Giggs. As the clock was getting closer and closer to the 90th minute mark, the tension on the pitch proportionally increased. The two Barcelona substitutes tried their best to justify their insertion on the field, but with little luck. Even the added presence of Eidur Gudjohnsen (on for Yaya Touré) in the final minutes was insufficient, as the Blaugrana were still helplessly unable to pierce through the United defense.

Eventually the referee called full time and the entire Old Trafford stadium erupted with joy, as their team will be travelling to Moscow final on May 21. It will be the first ever UEFA Champions League final opposing two English clubs, and the first final for the Red Devils since their 1999 triumph vs. Bayern Munich. For Barcelona, tonight’s elimination marks a decidedly failed season for Frank Rijkaard, whose tenure as club manager is now likely damaged beyond repair.


Manchester United F.C. MAN UTD-BARCELONA
[Match Highlights]
FC Barcelona
GOALSCORERS: 14’ Scholes (M)
MANCHESTER UTD (4-4-2): Van der Sar – Hargreaves, Brown, R.Ferdinand, Evra (92’ Silvestre) – Nani, Carrick, Scholes (77’ Fletcher), J.S.Park (77’ Giggs) – C.Ronaldo, Tevez. (bench: Kuszczak, O’Shea, Anderson, Welbeck). Coach: Ferguson.
BARCELONA (4-3-3): Victor Valdés – Zambrotta, Puyol, G.Milito, Abidal – Xavi, Y.Touré (88’ Gudjohnsen), Deco – Messi, Eto’o (72’ Krkic), Iniesta (61’ Henry). (bench: Pinto, Thuram, Edmilson, Sylvinho,) Coach: Rijkaard


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Posted in English Premiership, Spanish Liga, UEFA Champions League |

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  • 4 Responses to “Manchester United 1-0 Barcelona: Paul Scholes Sends Red Devils to Moscow (UEFA Champions League Semi-Finals, Leg 2)”

    1. Carvalrio says:

      oh what a great shot by scholes and sir alex i want to know how u think on inviduals acualty what is the best formation 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 or 4-3-3

    2. nori says:

      :razz: :razz: manchester united my be$$t

    3. Hopefully the red devils will pull it through today in the match against milan, to bad about the new owner and the glazer family casting a shadow over the great club, but that still don’t ruin the fun.

    4. Nani says:

      So glad that Nani finally started to prove his worth in teh second half of the season – hope he does well for Portugal too :)