Amazing race… to the finish
APRIL 24 — The title race is well and truly back on in England. Meanwhile, over in the continent, the Bundesliga championship has already been decided in Germany and Jose Mourinho, too, is preparing to be crowned champion in Spain for the first time as a manager.
The amazing feats of the Portuguese Special One continue and the big question of whether his Real Madrid team will make a return to the Allianz Stadium in Munich next month will be decided tomorrow night at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.
But let me take you back to the land of the Spice Girls for a moment.
It was a fairytale ending, if ever you could call one at Old Trafford … well, for the visiting team anyway.
But is this story of the weekend more to do with Manchester United’s defending — or, should I say, the lack of it — against Everton or did the Toffees just put on a show to match their hosts’ many comeback tales of the past.
I am going with the former.
There is individual defending, group defending and team defending. On this occasion it was team defending that was in question as Nani failed, not once, not twice, but on three occasions to stop balls from being played into the box.
We can’t stop all crosses from being played into the box but the idea of defending is to close down the man in possession as quickly as possible and this pressure will affect the quality of the delivery into the box. Nani never looked interested in doing so and this directly resulted in two goals.
Then there was the lazy and pathetic defending in the box. It lacked aggression but major credit goes to Everton for adopting a positive attitude and never giving up.
There will be a tinge of regret on David Moyes’ part though, as he has always adopted a pragmatic approach in all his years at Everton but a little risk and abandon does allow players such as Maroune Fellaini and Steven Pienaar to express themselves. And express themselves, they did.
So, now it all boils down to the Manchester derby next Monday night as Manchester City did the necessary to take all three points at the Molineux Stadium in the match played after Man United’s amazing slip-up.
I say necessary because they got the goals, but how they did it was a different matter entirely. The City boys huffed and puffed against a very ordinary Wolves side that worked hard but never had any quality to exert any pressure.
Ultimately, the first team to be relegated this season showed why they deserved such a fate.
In Germany, defending champions Borussia Dortmund retained their title and deservedly so. Their brand of fast and enterprising football is a delight to watch and more will be expected of them in Europe next season.
Their failure in the Champions League and not having the consolation of dropping into the Europa League was quite perhaps a blessing in disguise but the pressure will be on next season.
Finally, in Spain, Real Madrid’s victory in El Clasico at the Camp Nou now surely hands them the title and Mourinho’s fourth in four different countries.
The greatest or the Special One, you take your pick? There is something about this man and to keep winning titles in different countries shows his ability to reinvent his tactics.
Dour and pragmatic in his title wins in Porto (Portugal), Chelsea (England) and Inter Milan (Italy), he certainly realised the quality of players at Real Madrid and deserves his medal.
His opponents in midweek will be fresh after resting key players and a Bayern Munich in aggressive mode will be difficult to deal with.
However, only one goal is needed to progress to the final and expect Mourinho’s team to deliver just that.
Will it be another El Clasico in the Champions League final in Munich?
That will depend on how well rested the Chelsea players are or on Didier “Dying Swan” Drogba’s antics. The London outfit rested enough players on the weekend to mount a challenge albeit a defensive one again but Barcelona is wounded after two defeats in a row and will show no mercy.
There does seem a staleness in Barca’s play of late but expect the Catalans to dig deep and quite perhaps an early Chelsea goal could put some doubts into their minds.
Another great week of football coming up!
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.