Down, yes. But out? Certainly not.
A game of inches
In re-watching the match last night, I was reminded of Al Pacino's memorable halftime speech from the movie Any Given Sunday. Inches, he said, were the difference between winning and losing. Between living and dying. That life, and football, were both games of inches- both of which, were ultimately decided by who was willing to sacrifice more to achieve those last few inches. This match, so poor for stretches, was decided by inches. Bad decisions? Sure. But inches were the prevailing problem. Two teams, one clearly looking the better value for money on this day, but both in need of a fix heading into the return leg at Old Trafford in a week.
What We Learned
United played better as a unit, we played in spurts featuring individual brilliance. On this day, at least, United appeared to resemble a team that were comfortable working the ball around the pitch, probing for spots, and launching attacks in harmony. On the flipside, we were chaotic and confused, as has been the case most of the year. Not sure where you can pin the blame at this point. We can hate Carlo all we want but he's not kicking the ball out there- at some point these players need to stand and take notice.
VDS is a damn beast. Some excellent work between the sticks from the United #1 just echoed the sentiment shared by many in Manchester, that his departure will be difficult to swallow this summer. He was lively, and rather youthful in his reflex saves, including the end-of-the-first-half scrum that almost resulted in a vital equalizer. Can't say enough about him, he was honestly terrific.
That penalty decision? Look, we can all agree when we go back and watch the replay that it was a clear foul in the box. United were certainly lucky to have gotten away with that one, but we had at least two chances prior to that point to nag a goal and we were incapable of producing anything in the form of a finish yet again. We can curse our luck all we want for not getting the easy one, sure, but we're better served figuring out how in the hell we can score from the run of play- because clearly we looked confused in our attacking efforts.
I'm not sure anyone's quite figured out how to integrate Fernando into the mix. I can't fault the player though- he ran his socks off and put in a solid shift, including that ever-so-slight touch which rebounded back just before the half. But blaming one man for our failures is futile. He wasn't the reason we came away empty-handed. To blame him would suggest that everyone else did a bang-up job, which we know wasn't the case. That header? Excellent stuff which would have beat any other keeper on this night.
To win in Manchester, is going to take a colossal performance from our entire roster. The difference, I'd venture, boils down to the will on display. We've got to attack with purpose, which we did on occasion yesterday, but we've also got to make our chances count. Frankie Lamps said it best in his post-game comments, that nobody's looking to give us any sympathy. Lamenting the lack of a penalty decision is pointless. We've got to rally around one another and recognize the weight of the task at hand. Our last vestige for earning silverware hangs in the balance, and it's up to this group to seize it by the throat and claim victory. None of us can do that- only this group can make it happen.
Cech - 6 - Aside from Wayne's goal, was in control most of the night. Smothered Nani's dizzying goal-bound run, and took to the air to claim crosses neatly.
Bosingwa - 5.5 - Offensively he gave us great support, but far too often was not in sync on defense. Skinned by Nani on occasion, and was not aware in the build up leading to the goal. We need him to find balance in his role, otherwise, expect him to be on the bench next week.
EBALJT - 6 - Not a great game from the Skip, who typically shows up poised for such marquee affairs. Expect him to put in a classic shift next week after taking most of the night off in this one.
Bane - 6 - His usual bullish self, but caught out of position before Rooney's strike. He'll certainly feature next week, but the question remains in which spot, center or on the right.
Cole - 6 - Could rarely get forward, such was the threat from United's wing contingent. Had to do most of his work on the defensive side of the ball, which was fine for him. A standard performance, with little of note.
Ram - 6 - Another reckless challenge, another yellow card. Couldn't really use his athleticism or pace to great effect in this one, but clearly, deserved a penalty after Evra clattered him to ground. Perhaps parking him on the right isn't the best course for him in this case?
Essien - 5.5 - Bison, where art thou? I'm putting his face on a milk carton after this fixture. Needs to be more of a presence.
Lamps - 6.5 - Should have nicked one before the half, did well throughout to threaten, but had a hard time unlocking United's defense on this occasion.
Yuri - 4.5 - Virtually non-existant. Flo will be back next week, book it.
Didier - 5.5 - Perhaps better served as a lone-striker up front against United, he seemed to struggle to find his stride in this match. So influential against them weeks ago, he was hard-pressed to leave a mark on this one.
Nando - 6 - Overall, good. Not great, just good. Should have gotten at least one goal, but such is life. 9 games and counting.
Mikel - N/A - We threw him on in favor of BAWSE over the final 10 to push forward, but he rarely saw the rock. I'd like to see him instead of the Bison at this rate working as the fulcrum for the midfield.
Anelka - 5 - A step slow, but clearly a better player when he starts. Expect him in the lineup next week in favor of the Drogs.
Florent - 5.5 - Better than Yuri, for sure. I'll guess he'll be back in the lineup next week, but beyond that, needs to cut inside and create overlapping space for Ash to use down the left.
The entire, unedited speech delivered by Mr. Pacino in Any Given Sunday. What I wouldn't give to have Carlo belt this one out next week just before kickoff:
I don't know what to say really.
to the biggest battle of our professional lives
all comes down to today.
as a team
or we are going to crumble.
Inch by inch
play by play
till we're finished.
We are in hell right now, gentlemen
we can stay here
and get the shit kicked out of us
we can fight our way
back into the light.
We can climb out of hell.
One inch, at a time.
Now I can't do it for you.
I'm too old.
I look around and I see these young faces
and I think
I made every wrong choice a middle age man could make.
I pissed away all my money
believe it or not.
I chased off
anyone who has ever loved me.
I can't even stand the face I see in the mirror.
You know when you get old in life
things get taken from you.
That's, that's part of life.
you only learn that when you start losing stuff.
You find out that life is just a game of inches.
So is football.
Because in either game
life or football
the margin for error is so small.
one half step too late or to early
you don't quite make it.
One half second too slow or too fast
and you don't quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in ever break of the game
every minute, every second.
On this team, we fight for that inch
On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us
to pieces for that inch.
We CLAW with our finger nails for that inch.
Cause we know
when we add up all those inches
that's going to make the fucking difference
between WINNING and LOSING
between LIVING and DYING.
I'll tell you this
in any fight
it is the guy who is willing to die
who is going to win that inch.
And I know
if I am going to have any life anymore
it is because, I am still willing to fight, and die for that inch
because that is what LIVING is.
The six inches in front of your face.
Now I can't make you do it.
You gotta look at the guy next to you.
Look into his eyes.
Now I think you are going to see a guy who will go that inch with you.
You are going to see a guy
who will sacrifice himself for this team
because he knows when it comes down to it,
you are gonna do the same thing for him.
That's a team, gentlemen
and either we heal now, as a team,
or we will die as individuals.
That's football guys.
That's all it is.
Now, whattaya gonna do?