Despite still suffering from the City hangover in what proved to be quite a tepid exit from United out of the FA Cup on Saturday thanks to a lone Yaya Toure strike, a couple of mouth-watering Wednesday night fixtures including the second of the four game El Classico bonanza, the Copa Del Rey final and a relatively straight forward looking challenge at St. James’ Park on Tuesday night meant that there was no time to ponder on the Wembley woes.
Coming into the game on Tuesday night, Rooney was back from his trophy suspension in a move that I hoped would put a bit more purpose on the pitch and put us straight back into the driving seat. With United being unbeaten at St. James’ Park since 2001 and Newcastle’s lacklustre strike-force (Lovenkrands, Ameobi, Ranger and Kuqi) having an embarrassing combined 10 goals between them this Premier League season, United were strong favourites. As it is with football, being the favourites was merely a title. In a stalemate affair, the best chances for United fell to Rooney with a 1-on-1 with Krul which he would have slotted away 9 out of 10 times but for a good save from the young keeper and the ‘old reliable’ Giggs, who missed a golden opportunity from 10 yards out thanks in no part to a deflection of the stretched Newcastle defence.
Despite us not being able to break down the Newcastle defence, the most frustrating memory from this game for me was the performance of Nani. I can’t help but point out that he fell over far too easily in this game and it is frustrating to see that part of his game creeping back in. Coming into the thick end of the run in with Schalke away on Tuesday in the Champions League, we need our most creative players to be hitting top form and with Nani complaining about not being nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award, you would think he would want to give performances to justify his grievances. Come on Luis, we know you are much better than that.
I would like to point out that I felt that our mini-wizard Hernandez was a bit hard done by with a booking for diving in the 91st minute but it summed up how United were stretched and lacked the creative spark that was needed to break down a resilient Newcastle. In terms of taking positives being taken out of the game, playing an away match just 3 days after losing what was the biggest local derby of the past 30 years and coming out the other side with a clean sheet and a point is not something to be sniffed at. It did, however, pass the baton onto Arsenal and Chelsea who both had the chance to gain some ground on United with their midweek fixtures against Tottenham and Birmingham, respectively.
Will Arsenal ever learn to not lose their bottle? You would imagine that after the Carling Cup loss to Birmingham and the Champions League exit, Arsenal would be all up for actually winning something. Clearly not. They must enjoy a trophy cupboard dedicated to the successes of the women’s team. Summed up by Fabregas’ midweek outburst that Arsenal lacked the maturity and winning mentality to succeed and the unbelievable penalty gift that Eboue gave Liverpool to snatch a 1-1 draw, the midweek derby against Tottenham proved to be just another example of such discrepancies which have left Arsenal trophy-less for what could soon be 7 years. The game itself was entertaining from start to finish, with a wonderful left-foot strike from Huddlestone being the pick of the bunch from the 3-3 result, which glazed over the issues created by our draw with Newcastle quickly and effectively. On a side note, the more I watch Szczesny play, the more I don’t like him. He has somehow managed to squeeze an oversized ego behind his eyes for someone who playing for Brentford only last year and his wink to Djourou following a crunching collision with Gareth Bale only exacerbated my dislike towards him. If only United could already wrap up the Premier League before our visit to the Emirates in May, I’m sure giving our lads the Guard of Honour would wipe the grin off his face. The result stops Arsenal getting any hope again. Something that Arsenal never fail on is granting us United fans some perspective. I might be psychologically hung-over from Saturday’s exit but Arsenal fans have been hung-over for the best part of 7 years. Every cloud has a silver lining…
A quick mention has to be given to the Rent boys, who are creeping up the back stairs and sniffing at the doorstep. After a comfortable 3-1 victory against Birmingham, Chelsea are now 6 points behind United and moved up to second in the table ahead of Arsenal only on goal difference. With our game against Chelsea at Old Trafford coming at the end of an 8 day period which will see us play Arsenal and Schalke as well, it will provide a stellar test to our title credentials, if not decide it once and for all. Torres extended his fantastic record in front of goal, so much in fact that websites such as www.hastorresscoredforchelsea.com emerged to document his extraordinary consistency. Well done Fernando, keep up the good work!
Outside of the Premier League, the enticing Copa Del Rey Classico gave Mourinho another notch on his belt. After a battling 1-0 victory which needed an extra-time header from (who else?) Ronaldo to seal the win. Mourinho has now won 9 out of 10 finals in which he has appeared, the only loss coming as Porto manager losing to Benfica in May 2004. I would not be surprised to see Mourinho at the helm of United after Sir Alex hangs up his boots. Sometimes you just can’t argue with statistics. Madrid managed to just about shut-out Messi & co with Casillas putting in a Captain’s performance which included a stunning fingertip save from an elegant Pedro chip destined for the top corner. On a side note, it looks like the Spanish weather has brought out a new Adebayor, who looked electric as a lone striker for Madrid after he came on as a substitute. With the Champions League semi-final first leg being in the Bernabeu this week, Real Madrid will look to use their gained advantage and sweep aside Barcelona to hopefully set up a final with United and at last let Vidic put Ronaldo in his back pocket! For your amusement, below is a quick video of butterfingers Sergio Ramos treating the Cup with the care it deserves:
With the Everton game early on Saturday and the tough, very tough, fixture away to Schalke on Tuesday, the season really is reaching fever pitch. I just hope that the Germans don’t pull something magical out of the bag against us (Thanks Robben…) to stump our hopes of what would be a fantastic double, if the unpredictability of the season is anything to go by. Come on United!