MU Versus Barcelona and Chelsea
MU Versus Barcelona and Chelsea
That Mu was a lost continent of the Pacific Ocean was first proposed in the 19th century to explain the phenomenon of similar symbols, architecture and myths found in otherwise disparate, ancient cultures around the world. The ancient Egypt of the Pharaohs had been founded by refugees from the cataclysm that submerged Mu, while others became the Maya in South America, who produced LDU Quito of Ecuador for MU to defeat 1-0 in the World Club Cup Final of 2008.
Manchester United had beaten Chelsea in the Final of the European Champions League at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia, to qualify for the World Club Cup Finals. A headed goal on 26 minutes, by Portuguese right winger Cristiano Ronaldo, from a cross on the right from full back there Wes Brown, had been cancelled out on 45 minutes. A long-range shot from Chelsea’s Ghanaian right back, Michael Essien, deflected off United central defender, Nemanja Vidić, and then off central defender, Rio Ferdinand. The ball's change in direction caused United’s Netherlands’ ‘keeper, Edwin van der Sar to lose his footing, leaving Chelsea and England midfielder, Frank Lampard, who’d made a deep run, to finish with ease, 1-1. With a further two halves, each of 15 minutes, producing no result in extra time, the game went to penalties. England and Chelsea center back, John Terry, slipped as rain fell, and hit the post when he could have won the trophy for Chelsea, after Ronaldo was the only player to fail to find the net with his spot kick. The penalty shoot out went to sudden death, and Welsh left winger Ryan Giggs’ strike gave United the victory when Chelsea’s France forward Nicholas Anielka’s shot was saved by United’s Dutch ‘keeper, Edwin van der Sar, 6-5.
In the Final of the 2008 World Club Championship at the International Stadium Yokohama, Japan, England center forward, Wayne Rooney, was conserving his strength, like the rest of the remaining 10 Manchester United players, after Serbian center back, Nemanja Vidic, was sent off on 49 minutes, for lashing out at LDU Quito of Ecuador’s Argentine forward, Claudio Bieler, with an elbow. Waiting for the ball, tapped to him by Ronaldo, inviting him to shoot, at the left corner of the LDU Quito penalty area, on 73 minutes, Rooney’s low struck shot duly went inside the left upright and was enough to win the trophy, 1-0.
Manchester United again reached the Final of the 2009 UEFA Champions League at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Italy. However, the trophy was won by Barcelona of Spain, 0-2. The Spaniards first goal came after Edwin van der Sar cleared the ball downfield. Headed away by Barcelona's defensive midfield anchor, Sergio Busquets, England midfielder, Michael Carrick, was first to the ball for United, but could only head as far as creative central midfielder Xavi, who found his partner there in central midfield, Andrés Iniesta. As United’s defense backed away, Xavi exchanged passes with Barca’s Argentine play maker, Lionel Messi, before playing the ball into the path of Cameroon forward, Samuel Eto'o, in the penalty area. Vidić attempted to shepherd Eto’o away and off towards the goal line, but Eto'o, stepping inside him, toe-poked the ball past van der Sar, 0-1, inside 10 minutes. United's numbers up front in search of a goal left them defensively stretched. When a weak clearance from van der Sar was cut out by Barca right back and captain, Carles Puyol, he played the ball to Eto'o on the right side of the penalty area. The ball broke to Xavi, who crossed for Messi to send a looping header on 70 minutes over the United ‘keeper and into the far side of the goal, 0-2.
Before the game, Barcelona players admitted that the player they most feared was Manchester United and England midfielder, Paul Scholes, who’d scored the only goal of the semi-final tie between the two clubs the previous season. The first leg at the Camp Nou stadium had finished, 0-0, and at Old Trafford a wayward clearance from Barca right back, Gianluca Zambrotta landed at Scholes' feet in the 14th minute, and he delivered a trademark rising drive that flew high into the net beyond the outstretched hands of ‘keeper Victor Valdes to send United through to the Final against Chelsea, which was won, 6-5 on penalties a.e.t., when the game had ended, 1-1. Consequently, fans looked with some amazement at a team sheet for the 2009 Final that omitted Scholes’ name from the starting line-up. Paul didn’t come on until the 75th minute, and the fact that he did belies the suggestion that he couldn’t play because he was injured. Scholes’ position in the team was taken by South Korean, Park Ji-sung, a tigrish player, who hustled and bustled, but without the controlled ball playing skills of the England star. Also omitted were the Argentine center forward, Tevez, who’d played against Chelsea in the previous season’s Final, and Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov, who United manager, Alex Ferguson, had signed from Tottenham Hostspur on September 1, 2008, and had gotten 9 league goals that season. Both came off the substitutes’ bench; Tevez in the 46th minute, and Berbatov in the 66th, and both before Scholes, who Barca had said they feared the most before the game.
United returned to face Barcelona again in the 2011 Champions League Final at Wembley Stadium, London, and lost, 1-3, after Wayne Rooney had equalized left winger Pedro’s strike from inside the penalty box, when put through by Xavi on 27 minutes. On 34 minutes Rooney played a one two with Ryan Giggs before curling the ball into the corner from 15 yards, 1-1. Barca regained the lead in the 54th minute, when Lionel Messi, receiving the ball, fired home from 20 yards, 1-2. In the 69th minute, Barca right winger, David Villa, curled a shot into the top corner of the United net from 20 yards, 1-3. United had been English champions, as they’d been in 2009, and again Park Ji-sung was preferred in the starting line up to Scholes, who obviously wasn’t as feared as he had been, because Barca didn’t expect him to be selected. Berbatov, top scorer with 20 league goals, wasn’t even on the bench, so United’s defeat wasn’t any real surprise.
It was no surprise when manager, Alex Ferguson, though he somewhat recovered to win the title again in 2012-13, after an inspirational signing of Dutch center forward, Robert van Persie from Arsenal, who went on to score 26 league goals that season, retired. David Moyes came from Everton where he’d managed to keep the Toffees out of the relegation zone for a few years, and did as much, and Louis van Gaal, left the Dutch national team, to manage a last gasp FA Cup Final win over Crystal Palace, 2-1, in his last days in charge, before the appointment of the self-styled ‘Chosen One’, José Mourinho, the Portuguese manager, who’d won the Champions League with FC Porto in 2004, and again with Italy’s Inter Milan in 2010. Mourinho immediately brought Swede, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, from French club, Paris Saint-Germain, who top scored with 17 goals in the league, and 2 in the League Cup Final against Southampton, from a direct free kick on 19 minutes, and a headed goal on 87 minutes, which United won, 3-2. Ibra suffered a career-threatening cruciate ligament knee injury against Belgium’s Anderlecht in the quarter-final of the Europa Cup, and missed the subsequent 2-0 win over Ajax Amsterdam in the Final at the Friends Arena in Solna, a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden, which was the victorious climax to the start of Mourinho’s managerial reign at Old Trafford.
There were shades of Paul Scholes in the FA Cup Final of 2018. England’s Marcus Rashford was the center forward, a young striker who’d benefited from playing alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and who’d had the striker’s role against Ajax in the Europa Cup Final the previous season, although he’d had to wait until the 77th minute of the 3-2 win over Sunderland in the League Cup Final before coming off the bench as a substitute replacement for England right winger, Jessie Lingard, who’d gotten United second goal on 38 minutes, so doubling the team’s lead, 2-0, with a low right foot shot to the right corner of the net from just inside the penalty area.
It’d been France’s strong and skillful midfielder, Paul Pogba, who’d scored the first goal against Ajax Amsterdam for the reds from distance on 18 minutes, when his low left foot shot from just outside the penalty area took a deflection off Ajax center back, Davinson Sánchez, wrong footing Cameroon ‘keeper André Onana, looping over him into the net. Pogba had been brought back to Manchester United by Mourinho, for a world record fee of ₤ 89. 3 million, from Italian side, Juventus, where he’d won four consecutive Serie A titles in 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, and 2015-16. Although he’d been a part of the team that won the FA Youth Cup in 2010-11, beating Sheffield United, 6-3, over two legs (2-3; 4-0), Pogba had signed for Juvé, instead of a contract offered by then United manager, Alex Ferguson, at the end of the 2011-12 season.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Armenia’s captain, and right-footed left midfielder for United, bought before the 2016-17 season from German Bundesliga side, Borussia Dortmund, for ₤ 30 million, got the second goal against Ajax on 48 minutes when, with his back to goal, he flicked the ball overhead and into the net with his right foot from three yards out, and after the ball had been knocked down to him by England center back, Chris Smalling, after a corner from the right by Spain’s left-wing, Juan Mata, playing as a left-footed right wing for United, as had become the practice in recent seasons, and would continue subsequent to former Norwegian center forward, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, being appointed manager following United’s failure to win the FA Cup Final in 2018 against Chelsea.
Although United dominated the second half at Wembley Stadium, London, with Chilean center forward, Alexis Sánchez, having a perfectly good 63 minute goal ruled out on appeal to VAR, that is, video assistant referee. Marcus Rashford had been brought down, winning a free kick, which he took himself, and found England center back, Phil Jones, middle of the Chelsea penalty area, whose header to the bottom-right corner, goal-bound, was pushed away by Belgian ‘keeper, Thibaut Courtois, and Sánchez was there to knee the ball into the net. Eden Hazard’s 22nd minute penalty, awarded after the Belgian center forward, receiving a pass from Spanish midfielder, Cesc Fàbregas, made a run into Manchester United's box, where he was fouled by Jones with a sliding tackle. The strike from the spot proved enough to win the game for Chelsea, 0-1. Taking the penalty himself, Hazard put the ball low, and to the right, past Spain ‘keeper David De Gea in the United goal.
Paul Pogba captained France to the World Cup Final in Russia at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, during the close season of 2018, which the French won against Croatia, 4-2, and Paul scored the third goal on 59 minutes. A left-foot strike to the left of the net from the edge of the penalty area, after his initial shot had been blocked, 3-1, following an own goal by Croatian center forward, Mario Mandžukić, who diverted a 30 yard free kick from attacking midfielder, Antoine Griezmann, into the left corner of his own net with a header on 18 minutes, while a penalty by Griezmann had given the French a somewhat fortunate lead, 2-1, after Croatia’s left wing, Ivan Perišić, was adjudged to have handled the ball on 38 minutes. Croatia had equalized on 28 minutes with a left-footed strike from Ivan Perišić to the right corner of the net, after a free kick by Luka Modrić on the right, and center back, Domogoj Vida, had knocked the ball back to him with an outstretched right boot. Kylian Mbappé, right winger, scored France's fourth goal on 65 minutes, with a low right-foot shot from outside the box to the left of the net; the first teenager to score in a World Cup Final since Pelé in 1958. Croatia scored their second goal in the 69th minute from a back-pass that France ‘keeper, Hugo Lloris, failed to dribble away. Mandžukić poked the loose ball into the unguarded net with his right leg, 4-2.
England had failed to reach the Final, losing to Croatia, 1-2, a.e.t., although a long range strike from a direct free kick by Tottenham Hotspur’s right back, Kieran Trippier, on 5 minutes had given England the lead, 1-0. United’s wingers, Ashley Young and Jessie Lingard, started, with Marcus Rashford coming on in the 74th minute, and for a while after Trippier’s opener, United supporters were reminiscing over the contributions of Manchester United’s tigrish defensive midfielder, Nobby Stiles, and the rocket shooting of central midfielder, Bobby Charlton, to England’s 1966 Wembley Stadium, London, World Cup Final win over Germany, 4-2.
The scorer of United’s 93rd minute last gasp winning goal in the 1999 European Champions’ League Final, 2-1, and after striking partner Teddy Sheringham’s 91st minute equalizer, against German club, Bayern Munich, who’d taken the lead on 6 minutes from a direct low free kick sent around the United wall by right winger, Mario Basler, Solskjaer wasn’t appointed manager of Manchester United from Norway’s Molde, until the last sixteen teams were known as the participants in the UCL on December 18, 2018, that is, after Mouinho had seen United through to qualify from their group with Juvé, and when United still had a chance to win the FA Cup, but were eliminated under the stewardship of Solskjaer. The club lost to Wolves, 1-2, in the FA Cup quarter final, with Rashford getting a 95th minute consolation goal, and Barca at the quarter-final stage of the UCL, 0-4, on aggregate, that is, 0-1 at Old Trafford, Manchester, and 0-3 at Camp Nou.
United had lost the first leg at home to an own goal from left back, Luke Shaw, who was amongst five defenders on show that night; former left-winger Ashley Young at right back, Shaw, Portugal’s Diogo Dalot, normally a full back, on the right of midfield, England center back, Chris Smalling, and Sweden’s center back, Victor Lindelӧf. Barca defensive midfielder, Sergio Busquets, had released Barca playmaker, Lionel Messi, with a clip over the top from deep, and Messi chipped a cross to the back post, where Uruguayan striker, Luis Suárez, tried to head it back across goal, and it went in past De Gea off Shaw’s shoulder. Rashford, and Belgium center forward, bought to replace incapacitated Ibrahimovic from Everton for ₤ 75 million, Romelu Lukaku, were the strikers, with France’s Anthony Martial on the bench, which confused some fans, because of Martial’s goal stats.
Although Rashford and Martial were joint top scorers, with 17 goals each, when Manchester United finished third behind Liverpool in 2019-20, Martial, who was signed from Monaco in 2015 by then manager, Louis van Gaal, was a more proven goalscorer at United, during Rashford’s development, that is, with Rashford’s goal tallies of 5, 5, and 7 for the 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18 seasons, Martial was statistically a better striker, with 11 goals in his first season, 2015-16, 4 in his second, 2016-17, and 9 in 2017-18. However, no one could deny Lukaku his role that season, when he got 12 goals to add to his 16 the previous season, although Pogba top scored with 13, which perhaps explained why Romelu was transferred to Italian side Inter Milan, because the French central midfielder was getting more goals than the main striker. During United’s 0-3 defeat, Martial was substituted on 65 minutes, and Rashford on 73 minutes, with Lukaku coming on, but the real mystery was Alexis Sanchez coming off the bench for Lingard on 80 minutes, because Alexis managed only 3 goals in two full seasons, 2017-18 and 2018-19, before being transferred to Inter Milan, and he’d kept Martial out of the 2018 FA Cup Final defeat to Chelsea, 0-1. Although Lukaku and Martial came on for Lingard and Rashford on 73 minutes, it was too late to provide Mourinho with the successful cushion he’d need in 2018-19.
Season 2019-20 was Solskjaer’s first season in complete control, and his side duly progressed to the FA Cup semi-final and defeat to Chelsea, 1-3, and similar disputations amongst fans and players as to who should have played. As with Paul Scholes, the England goal scoring attacking midfielder who, after being overlooked for two Champions League Finals against Barcelona in 2009 and 2011, despite being instrumental in United’s 2008 semi-final win over Barcelona, and scoring the only game of the two legs, 1-0, at Old Trafford, before United beat Chelsea in the Final, 6-5, a.e.t., when the game had finished, 1-1, retired at the end of 2010-11, Solskjaer’s and Mourinho’s preference for players other than Martial up front remained inexplicable. Ferguson, who’d preferred Park Ji-sung, had to beg Scholes to come out of retirement during the 2011-12 season, and his return saw United beat Manchester City, 3-2, in the FA Cup 3rd round on January 8, 2012. However, United effectively lost the title with a 4-4 draw at home to Everton on April 22, 2012, with the red devils 4-2 up, followed by an away defeat to Manchester City, 0-1, resulting in City winning the title on goal difference, when both clubs completed the season’s campaigning on 89 points. Although Scholes’ contribution to the 2012-13 title win was significant, it was his and Ferguson’s retiring season, and the 26 goals from Robert van Persie, center forward, brought from Arsenal at the beginning of the season by Ferguson, that won the championship.
The 2019-20 FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea saw Solskjaer again play five defenders in front of De Gea in a must win game; England right full back, bought before the beginning of the season from Crystal Palace for ₤ 50 million, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and England left full back, Brandon Williams, and three central defenders, Ivory Coast’s Eric Bailly, England’s captain, Harry Maguire, who’d arrived from Leicester on August 5, 2019, and Sweden’s Victor Lindelӧf, while Martial came off the substitutes bench on 45 (+ 2) minutes. Chelsea’s French forward, Olivier Giroud, met Spanish right back Cesar Azpilicueta's cross on 45 (+ 11) minutes and, from five yards out, squeezed the ball in off De Gea to give the Blues the advantage at the break, 0-1. That lead was doubled on 46 minutes when England midfielder, Mason Mount, running forward, drilled a low shot at goal. It shouldn't have troubled a ‘keeper of De Gea's caliber, but the Spaniard parried the ball into his own net. United lost a third goal to a Maguire own goal on 74 minutes, before their midfield playmaker, Portugal’s Bruno Fernandes, whose purchase by Solskjaer from Sporting CP (Lisbon) on January 29, 2020, had resulted in definite improvement, got an 85th minute consolation goal from the penalty spot, 1-3.
United had been 7th in the league when Fernandes made his debut in a 0-0 draw away to Wolves, and finished with 8 league goals for his necessarily limited season’s contribution, as the club ended in a creditable 3rd position in the English championship to qualify for the UCL with 66 points, behind Liverpool (99), and Manchester City (81), which was mainly due to Fernandes’ inspiration and attacking qualities from United’s central midfield. The rest is mystery.