The Rakes of Mallow's Voice of the Supporters

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The group stage of the UEFA Champions League always offers the opportunity to see Europe's elite match-up against lesser-known clubs. Now in my opinion there's nothing better after a long day of arduous classes than turning on the television for an exciting conclusion to the day's football and seeing Chelsea take on the Slovakian Corgoň League champions MŠK Žilina. It was truly a neck-and-neck affair. Chelsea only won by 3 goals.

In actuality a few compelling results took hold this week, the most significant of which involved Manchester United only taking a point at home against Rangers. Now, at one point in history, Rangers, along with their much more Irish-friendly Glasgow counterparts Celtic, were a powerful team, capable of winning European competition. In fact, only 3 years ago they were in the UEFA Cup Final. Sadly, Scottish soccer is nothing like it was in yesteryear. Rangers are in such financial turmoil that they have instituted a freeze on player transfers.  But even manager Walter Smith, with all these hindrances, has the sense to start Maurice Edu in an important game. Take that Bob Bradley.

Manchester United, for their part, aren't exactly in great financial shape either, but they have far more resources and compete in a much superior league than Rangers. In theory, the Red Devils should securely win this fixture when played at their breathtaking home ground Old Trafford. In fact, they shouldn't have trouble when they travel to the Ibrox in 2 months. Wayne Rooney should score a hat trick, and everything should be hunky dory in the merry old suburbs of Manchester.

Instead, Tuesday offered a frustrating encounter for Manchester United. Rooney, Chicharito, and the rest of whomever Sir Alex prodded onto the field failed to scare Rangers in a serious manner. Winger Antonio Valencia tore ligaments in his ankle and will miss most of the season. Rangers, for their part, rightfully earned the draw they sought and breathed new life into the England-Scotland rivalry. Manchester United, however, simply disappointed.

Man U's league play has been exciting but not dominant, as they have drawn their away matches against Fulham and Everton. Compared to Chelsea and Arsenal, who have seemed nearly unstoppable so far, Manchester United lacks their normal cohesively consistent domination. They appear unable to take hold of a match for the full 90, an issue that will punish any club.

This Sunday in the Premier League against equally unimpressive Liverpool, Manchester United can either join Chelsea and Arsenal as dominant English clubs or fall down the ladder among the mass of good-but-not-great teams in the EPL, like Manchester City, Tottenham, and Everton. This will be a huge match for Sir Alex's men. A win restores their confidence after a few disappointing results. A loss severely crushes their title hopes. Whatever happens, we're in for a thrill of a season as Manchester Untied, with impending retirements and transfers, begins a major transformation as a team.


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