Thursday, May 7, 2009

The week's highlights

Some thoughts on a mad week of sport...

1 Leinster's time in the sun
Jumpthefence risks the wrath of rugby heads in these parts, but there was something refreshing about last Saturday's show of power from Leinster. Ah there's only so much one casual rugby watcher can take of how special Munster are and Paul O'Connell's pyjamas jokes and so on. And make no mistake by the way, this was a real show of power from Leinster. They completely outplayed the European champs, especially in overpowering them in contact, something nobody's done to Munster in eons. They wanted it more, and desire's a hard bloody thing to beat. Kudos to O'Driscoll, Darcy and company for deciding their time had come.
And if there wasn't some Munster eegit in your pub that you took a great deal of pleasure in watching squirm as the game wore on, then you weren't in the pub.

2 Hatton taken to school
There's only so many excuses to be made. Ricky Hatton might have made light of being outclassed by Floyd Mayweather last year but the pummelling he took from Manny Pacquiao makes it clear the likeable Mancunian is just a rung below the top, top level of his class. Mayweather was too smart, too classy, too technically excellent. Pacquiao was too fast, too explosive, too good. Hatton had/has great qualities, but he couldn't take either of these great fighters to a brawl, and he suffered for that. No shame in it either, at least he had the balls to take the fights on.

3 A final to look forward to?
So we get the dream final at last. To be fair, it's got the makings of a classic. United get the chance to prove themselves a great side against the other top team in europe. Barcelona get the chance to take their crown. Both are easy on the eye, play the game the right way and have wonderful players on show. It COULD be amazing. Yet Jumpthefence has hyped up enough games to wonder if it'll be tight and tense in reality rather than epic and goal-ridden.
Oh, and Barcelona were rather lucky last night. The funniest thing was the boys on rte trying to convince everyone that they won cos they kept doing the right thing, when in actuality, they got lucky with decisions, the fall of the ball in the last minute and Chelsea missing some glorious chances to seal it. Dunphy suggesting a five-yard sideways pass from Messi was some kind of genius was also hilarious. (All of which doesn't take away from the fact Jumpthefence thinks Messi is in fact a genius and Barca are a crazily brilliant side on their night.)
Predictions are impossible for the end of May. So we'll go with United being more solid and grinding a 1-0. Or maybe Barca thumping United 4-1. Or maybe a mad 3-3. Perhaps, ah sod it...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Exposing the truth - United ease through

As if we didn't already now, we do now: talk is cheap. Arsene Wenger and a few Arsenal players have spent the past week suggesting they were going to do United in this second leg. Well the only magnificent thing about last night came from the European champions, as Man Utd truly exposed the gulf between the wannabes and the genuine article. This United side may have had a blip but on this tie's evidence, they're nearing greatness and they'll get their chance to prove that in the coming month.

Simply, United were awesome. True, they were helped by some awful defending on Arsenal's part, but there was a clinical touch to how those early lapses were punished and from then on, Alex Ferguson's side were controlled, defended perfectly, looked dangerous with every attack and conjured up a third goal of real breathtaking quality. They were more mature, stronger physically, had more legs, more belief, more quality, better players all over the field. The phrase men against boys may well have been invented for this tie.

A few words on Ronaldo. Martin Samuel calls it well here in the Daily Mail. He was astoundingly excellent last night, playing in that position Ferguson likes him away from home in europe, tormenting the back four up front on his own. He really tore Toure and Djourou a new one last night - scoring two top, top strikes, making the third goal, and generally taking a huge game by the scruff of the neck and making it his. The desire, speed and ability he showed for that third goal was something nobody else in the world could have achieved - check out a video of it and see how much ground he made up on the Arsenal player following his run, feel the absolute effort to get to that ball. Openings from anywhere within 40yards are now goalscoring chances. There were murmerings of Franck Robery replacing him at Old Trafford yesterday; in that kind of form, there really is nobody else who can be so devastatingly effective.

It wasn't all Ronaldo. Rooney kept up his recent form. Park added effect to his cause. Fletcher and Anderson were again in control with running and ability. Carrick was less influential but still decent. Evra was back to being Evra, swallowing up Theo Walcott and making a mockery of the Arsenal winger's claims of greatness. Ferdinand and Vidic exposed Adebayor for being average. Have we gotten across how good United were yet?

And still Arsenal were so, so disappointing, yet not surprising. As Graeme Souness said on rte - and isn't it great to see him upset the Giles/ Dunphy love-in with actual knowledge of how things work in the English game - they're a team of boys and that's the sort of inconsistency you get. United have a team of established, experienced guys who've done it all and there's no substitute for that. The building for the future guff will have to be looked at. For now though, United take another step towards potential, dare we say it, greatness.