United to bite back?
Manchester United exited the UEFA Champions League last night amid a storm of controversy, after a truly dramatic encounter with Spanish giants Real Madrid. The fixture, which saw the return of former Old Trafford idol Cristiano Ronaldo and another top-of-the-bill tactical duel between Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho, certainly lived up the pre-match expectations.
What nobody saw coming though, was the actions of referee Cuneyt Cakir. The Turkish official brandished a straight red card for United’s Nani after the winger caught Alvaro Arbeloa with an accidental high boot. The impact of the decision on the home side was brutally clear by the end of the 90 minutes, but as the analysis of the incident spins around Europe, NMO now takes a look at what the turn of events means for the English domestic season.
Fans of Manchester City were likely to have watched on chuckling as United’s European dream came crashing down in shower of perceived injustice. The more perceptive among them however, will know that when that red card came out of Cakir’s pocket it was not just a watershed in the game but also a beacon, signalling the end for City’s aspirations of defending their league title.
While United are galloping 12 points clear at the Premiership’s summit. Roberto Mancini will surely have been clinging to the faint hope that his arch rivals’ European endeavours would prove a distraction, causing them to drop a few points and allow his own side to rein them in.
With the possibility of two-leg quarter and semi-finals now eradicated, the Old Trafford side will be able to fully focus on regaining the crown that was so dramatically snatched from them within the final minutes of last season. Expect Ferguson to field strong sides now in all of United’s league fixtures until the title is claimed, which could well be before the end of April. The top two of course, still must meet for a second time this season, with City scheduled to make the trip across town on the April 8. Had United progressed to the quarter-finals this crucial six pointer would have fallen bang in the middle of their two European ties. This would surely have been an advantage, which has just been removed from Mancini’s list of reasons to be cheerful.
Looking for more immediate potential fallout we should search no further than Old Trafford this coming Sunday. Chelsea are the visitors in an FA cup tie which represents the Blues’ last realistic hope of silverware this season. It is a all too well known a fact that when Ferguson’s United are knocked down they get back up again and the backlash for whichever side happens to be in front of them is usually severe. As the Madrid players celebrated, Ferguson was incandescent with rage. United players lost their cool and wrongly vented their frustrations with Mr Cakir. If Rafa Benitez was looking on he would be right to be concerned as before him was the perfect example of the old cliche; a wounded animal.
That animal will take to the field against Chelsea on Sunday and it would be foolish to think that United players will be wallowing in self-pity. Fergie is likely to freshen his side. Rooney will surely return and we will see a line-up with a simple brief: attack with ferocious intensity.
The impact of United focusing solely on their domestic challenges is likely to spread down the table. Arsenal, Chelsea and Aston Villa all have league fixtures that would have coincided with United’s Champions League schedule if they had continued in the competition. Each of those clubs must surely now feel the chances of much needed points in those games has just diminished slightly.
It is easy of course to look at the what ifs but we can briefly consider this United side and whether or not they were strong enough to compete on three fronts and repeat the treble success of 1999. The answer, ultimately, is of course no but had the Cuneyt Cakir shown yellow rather than red, the class of 2013 would most likely still be on course to scale similar heights.
The midfield quartet of Giggs, Scholes, Keane and Beckham probably sets the 99 side apart from the current crop but the United of today has more strength in depth, a formidable lead in the league and with Barcelona’s progress uncertain, had Fergie’s charges gone through, they would be looking like the team to avoid. Unfortunately for those still to play them in the league this season, avoidance is not an option.