Posted by: jowanderer | May 23, 2008

Ronaldo is the slickest of them all on a night of slips

May 22, 2008

Ronaldo is the slickest of them all on a night of slips

Cristiano Ronaldo with the Champions League trophy

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Maybe there is something in the idea of the “39th game” after all. How about this: the two best Barclays Premier League teams play a grand final at a continental stadium to bring the curtain down on the season. If the matches are as sensational as last night’s, there would be no complaints.

Contests do not come any more dramatic and, with Europe watching, the biggest winner of all was English football. I was excited just looking at the teamsheets. Too often before a big game you see the line-ups and your heart sinks because it is obvious that a manager has adopted a safety-first approach.

That is what Sir Alex Ferguson did against Barcelona in the Nou Camp in the semi-finals, but not this time. Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tévez were all told to do what they do best — attack. It was a shame that Rooney was so poor. He was Manchester United’s biggest disappointment of the night.

The selection of Florent Malouda for Chelsea deserved scrutiny. He was mediocre, but justified his place if only because he is more consistent than Salomon Kalou, who was an effective late substitute.

Putting Michael Essien at right back has worked well for Avram Grant before. After half an hour it appeared less smart. Essien has rarely come up against such a tough opponent as Ronaldo. The winger’s brilliance combined with Essien’s naivety meant that the Chelsea player was given the runaround.

Essien’s athletic ability can usually compensate for his defensive shortcomings, but he cannot grow a couple of inches. Taller and with a better leap, Ronaldo dominated the aerial battles. And he was smarter. The Ghanaian was not sure whether to stick close to his man or back off and Ronaldo did what all good wingers do without the ball, drift almost unnoticed into the danger zone. Essien is least comfortable when defending in central areas and Ronaldo kept cutting inside.

Rarely do you see the world’s top players shine in a Champions League final, but Ronaldo was rampant yesterday in the first half, growing in stature as Essien shrank. You could see his confidence soar, the box of tricks opening as he realised that he was on his game, that this could be his night.

Essien improved in the second half, mainly because United were overrun in midfield. This gave him scope to advance up the pitch, where he is happier, while Ronaldo backtracked.

The Portugal winger needs to rethink his penalty strategy. He often stops midway through his run-up so Petr Cech expected it and read his intentions. I know from experience the pressure of taking a penalty in a shoot-out. But I hate nonchalant efforts with no conviction, such as Nicolas Anelka’s. Just hit it low and hard, especially on a greasy surface when the ball will zip.

John Terry may have missed in the shoot-out, but no one could call him the villain. He was immense, Chelsea’s best player with textbook centre-half play, just like Nemanja Vidic at the other end of the pitch.

How cruel football is. Terry was back to his best after a catalogue of injuries, in commanding form at the end of a season when he seems to have lost the England captaincy. This was his finest game of the year, but he won’t remember anything else apart from that penalty that hit the post, that little slip that cost Chelsea everything.

Terry was not the only man to fall over. Yes, it was raining, but how many players were wearing the wrong boots? I’d say perhaps half a dozen had chosen “blades” instead of the more traditional studs. At least the contest was as slick as the pitch.

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Responses

  1. I was gutted for JT as he did have a fantastic game, keeping his team in it in the first half especially.

    Ronaldo was outstanding in the first half but was very quiet second half and I felt Chelsea probably just shaded it on the night, although penalties are always an exciting way to finish – for the neutral at least.

    Overall though a fantastic advert for the Premier League and good that both teams have a backbone of English/British players

  2. Excellent commentary on Terry’s unbefitting status as goat. He was the main reason Chelsea went into halftime even, instead of down a goal (or even two). I also agree on Cristiano’s penalty taking. He’s now missed two IMMENSE PK’s in the past month. The stutter-step is not only borderline illegal, but ineffective as well.


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