After Schalke’s elimination of Inter Milan in the quarter finals of the Champions League, people began talking them up as dark horses in the competition. With German World Cup star Manuel Neuer in goal and former Real Madrid demi God Raul at the other end of the pitch putting them past keepers, their chances of beating Manchester United were being touted by all and sundry.
Obviously they had just knocked out the holders of the Cup and were coming up against an ‘ordinary’ Manchester United team so why not back them at 3-1 as Corals were offering?
After the 90 minutes had been played in Veltins Arena all of a sudden these dark horses had become asses. United outplayed them at every turn and whilst the score line said it was 2-0, had it not been for Neuer we could have racked up a score that would have allowed us to play our under 16s in the next leg and still qualify. The scoreline says 2-0 but the mental beating we handed out was way bigger as we completely neutralised them as any kind of threat in the game. They themselves acknowledged it as Metzelder told Sky Italia:
“Against Inter everything we tried worked. Against United we couldn’t even try anything.”
For anyone who watched it, it didn’t have the feeling of a Champions League semi final rather a pre season friendly against a lesser side. And this is against the team that had handily flogged the Champions in the last round.
So why was everyone quick to talk down Schalke rather than talk up United?
I’ll never understand why people have been so reluctant to praise Manchester United this season. The disparaging comments made about this side at the start of the season were annoying to say the least. As the season progressed it was more of the same but why?
The team is constantly downplayed when compared to teams of old. We as fans do it ourselves and when it was still possible, various people stated it would be somewhat of a knock to the team of 1999 if this rag tag band could emulate their achievement of doing the treble.
When it didn’t happen and we lost to Man City in the FA Cup the detractors came out in full force claiming the team wasn’t good enough to complete such a huge feat. Whilst I have got used to this it will always irk me when I see it. Following our defeats to Chelsea and Liverpool in the league there was the same outpouring, this team isn’t good enough.
I will always be offended by people saying this league has been the weakest and United are just lucky to have been the team to capitalise. Do the people saying this not realise that we too are also cruising? The talk of us capitalising on the weakness of teams around us is insulting. This is Manchester United being spoken of, it isn’t as if we are Spurs or Everton sneaking up and stealing our position in the league, it is because we are a team equipped to win unlike the eternal youngsters at Arsenal or Abramovich’s (note I said Abramovich and not Ancelotti) pitch patch team at Stamford Bridge.
But they won’t tell you that, they’ll say that we are lucky to get the late goals that are ingrained into the club or that the team lacks flair when we grind out a win in a game that for all their beautiful football Arsenal would have dropped points in.
Looking back at the Schalke game I saw someone declare the performance as our most complete 90 minutes this season, whilst I haven’t sat here and thought of every game we played this term it isn’t a crazy claim. For all the talk of Schalke being poor, they were poor because we made them so.
In boxing we are always warned of letting our opponent getting into a rhythm and are trained to do a number of things to stop this from happening from changing stance to fighting on the inside/outside or a number of other things. Tonight we didn’t let Schalke get into their rhythm and when they threatened to do so we employed one of these tactics to stop them from doing so. There was little to no feeling out period as there is to be expected in a European tie of such magnitude. Instead we asserted our dominance over a team that is, and no disrespect is meant by this, inferior in every aspect of the term to us.
This was their first semi final but our 4th in 5 years and we treated the tie as such as we went about imposing ourselves on them on their own ground. Yet rather than it being a case of United being that good it was spun as a weak side capitulating on the big stage.
We’ve beaten a number of big teams this season and very little praise has been offered up. If we win the league people will talk of it being a weak season, Chelsea and Arsenal faltering and will remember our away day woes rather than the fact we have been so imperious at home and have beaten everyone put in front of us. In Europe they will continue to laud the big two from Spain and neglect to praise our performances, conceding just 3 times in the competition this season or the fact we remain undefeated like Real Madrid.
The praise won’t come, it will continue to annoy me but I think the trophies we win will be a far better testimony to how good we are than anything any journalist can conjure up.