Thursday, December 9, 2021

Ferguson throws tactical curve-ball but nerve wins it for United (SN)

Sir Alex Ferguson used all of his 34 years of managerial experience to try to find a way to spark Manchester United to Champions League glory against Chelsea but in the end it was penalty-shoot out nerve that proved decisive.

After all that had gone before it in a drama-filled final that had goals, missed chances, rattled woodwork, a fracas and even a red card, it all came down to the 12-yard lottery.

Cristiano Ronaldo and John Terry missed during the regular penalties but when Edwin van der Sar plunged to his right to beat away the 14th spot-kick of the night from Nicolas Anelka, the cup was won.

It might not have been the way Ferguson envisaged winning the Champions League but it made it no less special.

The United boss surprised many people by abandoning the system he has employed during most of the season in Europe of playing a lone striker, two wide men and three in midfield.

Ferguson paired Carlos Tevez with Wayne Rooney in attack and switched Owen Hargreaves to the right of midfield with Ronaldo on the left.

It proved to be a tactical masterstroke early on, aimed at exposing Ghanaian midfielder Michael Essien, whom Chelsea boss Avram Grant had selected at right back.

Ronaldo has often struggled to get the better of England left-back Ashley Cole, who seems to play his best matches when directly confronting the Portugal star, when playing on the right.

Instead, he took advantage of Essien being played out of position – a choice Grant has often made despite the presence of two Champions League winning right-backs at the club in Paulo Ferreira and Juliano Belletti.

In the first 20 minutes Chelsea's weakeness was twice exposed as Ronaldo beat Essien once and then took him out of the game with a pass for the over-lapping Patrice Evra.

But it was in the air that Fergie's canny tactical nous shone through as Ronaldo lept high above the ball-watching Ghanaian to head home a cross from Wes Brown on 26 minutes.

The twin threat of Rooney and Tevez up front also almost paid dividends 10 minutes before the break as Rooney sent a searching, cross-field ball to the scampering Ronaldo, who out-paced Essien again, and his early cross was met by Tevez in the centre – Rooney was still down in the right-back slot.

The Argentine could not direct his header away from Petr Cech, though, and the Londoners survived.

The downside for Fergie in pitching Ronaldo against Essien was evident in Chelsea's equaliser, though, as the Ghanaian strode forward unopposed and sent in a hopeful shot that took two deflections before falling perfectly to Frank Lampard to dink home over Van der Sar.

That was another poignant moment for Lampard, who last month lost his mother. He peeled off to the left to celebrate his goal before stopping and pointing with both hands to the sky.

After a bright start to the second period from United, Chelsea gradually got on top, taking a hold of the midfield.

That prompted Ferguson to switch back to his three-man central midfield, pushing Hargreaves inside and Rooney out to the right.

United got back into the game, despite a Didier Drogba shot beating Van der Sar but not the post, but could not gain the upper hand.

Ferguson brought off Scholes and gave Ryan Giggs a record 759th United appearance and a free role roaming behind Tevez, but still to no great effect.

In extra time Lampard hit the bar with Van der Sar again beaten and this time Ferguson responded by throwing on the recognised winger Nani for Rooney.

United finished the better but still could not create much, despite a man advantage in the last five minutes of extra-time after Drogba's stupid sending off.

Fergie's final change was to bring on Brazilian midfielder Anderson for Brown with penalties in mind.

Substitutes Giggs, Nani and Anderson were all successful with their penalties, so maybe Ferguson will claim he was playing for that all along.

One way or another, Ferguson found a way to win his second Champions League crown.

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