Saturday, January 24, 2009

FA Cup Liveblog: Manchester United v. Spurs

Grim and grimmer.

It's been a rough week, but what better way to recuperate than on the couch with a few beers and two EPL teams clashing in the FA Cup? Well, they're both likely fielding youngsters, so I guess it could be a bit better.

For example, I'd prefer seeing some top league action this weekend, much like Precious Roy outlined below. He's got some good ideas, that man. Should Sepp fall prey to syphilis, I think I know who I'd nominate to replace him.

But I digress.

It's FA Cup! Fourth Round! Old Trafford! Sir Alex Ferguson! 'Arry!

Come 1-0 with me after the jump. Believe me, Torquay v. Coventry was just the beginning.

Man Utd: Foster, O'Shea, Neville, Vidic, Fabio Da Silva, Welbeck, Carrick, Scholes, Ronaldo, Berbatov, Tevez.
Subs: Kuszczak, Giggs, Tosic, Fletcher, Possebon, Chester, Eckersley.

Tottenham: Alnwick, Gunter, Corluka, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto, Bentley, Huddlestone, Zokora, Bale, Modric, Pavlyuchenko.
Subs: Gomes, Gilberto, Giovani, Taarabt, Defoe, Rocha, Dervite.

Fresh off his howler in the Carling Cup, young Ben Alnwick gets another chance to prove that he knows how to play goalkeeper. In front of him, a relatively full-strength XI, although the absence of Wonder Striker Darren Bent means they're severely weakened up front. Ah, who am I kidding? They'd be better served with Titus Bramble up front.

The presence of Gareth Bale surely foretells doom, although it's nice to see 'Arry live up to his dishonest reputation: all that talk about fielding the "weakest team I can possibly find" was bollocks, wasn't it? He's having a go, and like always, he's looking to steal a win. He won't do that with the suddenly-crap Bentley in the lineup.

Meanwhile, Fergie's bait-and-switch from the Derby fixture sees some first-teamers sprinkled amid a slew of players I've never heard of. The young Brazilian Fabio gets his first-team debut, so good for him, I reckon. Carlos must be feeling the love at getting a run-out in yet another meaningless fixture. He's got the morose Bulgarian up top for company, while the bench is littered with children, and Dennis Eckersley?

Off we go.

1 min: Bentley does what he does best, taking possession in midfield and running left to right across the pitch before dribbling it out of play. Carrick was happy to shepherd him on his merry way, and 'Arry surely wonders why on earth any manager would pay as much for him as Ramos did.

3 mins: Early "pressure" (and I use that term loosely) for Spurs, with Bentley winning a corner-that-wasn't-really-a-corner under pressure from young Fabio. Bale swings it to the far post, but after some header tennis, it ends up safely in Ben Foster's arms.

5 mins: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL... my oh my. It's that useless Russian striker! Lords-a-leaping. A weak cross gets half-heartedly cleared by Fabio only as far as Huddlestone, and his delicate cross into the thick of the box finds Pavlyuchenko's head and he helps it on its way, glancing it just inside the far post. Foster barely moved, and Vidic was fast asleep in coming across. Soft defending from Man United, and as a Liverpool fan, I take mild solace from it. Here's hoping this carries over to the league. Nice cross by Tubblestone for that one. Manchester United 0, Spurs 1

8 mins: There's a buzz in the air as the United fans try to sing their team back into it. The Reds don't look like they've woken up yet, or maybe they're hung over from that shaky midweek performance. It's typical United at the mo, passing it around rather aimlessly while Spurs look to have shown us their gameplan: get those crosses in and hope for the best.

11 mins: Scholes goes the aerial route, lofting a long ball forward that Assou-Ekotto can only head into Berbatov's path, but the Bulgarian drags his shot from the edge of the box and it was always going wide. Better luck next time, tosser.

15 mins: United are beginning to assert some authority over the midfield, but the final pass forward isn't quite working yet. Then young Danny Welbeck attempts to relieve Assou-Ekotto of his leg below the ankle via a late tackle/stomp, but he's unsuccessful.

17 mins: Better from United as Fabio intercepts a pass and releases Berbatov down the middle. He finds O'Shea wide but the final cross is awful and the danger subsides for now.

A few seconds later, Carlos Tevez makes the case to Fergie for more playing time with a fizzing shot from 20 yards that cracks off the crossbar with Alnwick beaten. Spurs can't sit back for 70 minutes, if they were planning on it.

19 mins: Ronaldo finds out that the step-over is a privilege, not a right. Six of them at the edge of the box before two Spurs defenders promptly relieve him of possession.

20 mins: Tottenham defend like statues! Welbeck receives the ball wide right, cuts all the way in, plays a one-two with Tevez(?) and skips through two more tackles. Clean through on goal, he dallies on the ball for a second and Chris Gunter slides in at the last second to block a sure equalizer. Spurs are showing exactly why taking an early lead at Old Trafford isn't always a good thing.

Scholes blazes a shot from 25 yards over the bar, and a minute later, Ronaldo does the same. Surely it's just a matter of time before they equalize, right?

22 mins: A mazy run-and-cross by Fabio down the left falls to Tevez in the middle, and his reflex shot requires a brilliant save from Alnwick to keep Spurs' advantage. United are just murdering Spurs down the left wing. I blame David Bentley.

24 mins: Can Gareth Bale defend? Acres of room behind him for Welbeck to sneak forward and deliver a dangerous cross into the six-yard-box, one that Corluka thumps out for another United corner. The pressure on the Spurs' backline is relentless at the moment.

25 mins: Scratch that, United are murdering Spurs down both wings. Scholes finds Welbeck wide right again, but his pass to John O'Shea is promptly wasted and Spurs clear their lines again.

You know how I know Fabio is Brazilian? Because he's great on the ball and he knows how to foul. He shoves Gunter to the floor for the easiest free-kick decision in history. Bentley loops it in but O'Shea clears, and then from the other wing, Bale crosses for Pavs but Foster comes 15 yards off his line to collect. It's the first thing he's had to do since picking the ball out of the net 20 minutes ago.

Gareth Bale is a team of one. A 30 yard run into traffic on the M6 would have been more useful.

32 mins: Welbeck tries to emulate Maradona's 2nd goal against England in the '86 World Cup, picking up the ball well wide on the right and dribbling his way in towards goal. However, after turning Assou-Ekotto inside-out a few times, he finally loses possession. He's good on the ball, but this is Spurs he's playing against! He can't just walk the ball into the net! (Or can he?)

34 mins: For such a big fella, Huddlestone isn't very imposing on the pitch. He lets Tevez ghost by him with nary a nudge or hip-check, and Carlos' run ends when Bale deflects his cross out for a corner.

GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL, and it's Huddlestone again! Showing why he's not good at football once more (as if we didn't see it less than 30 seconds prior... defensive midfielders need to be able to defend, you know), a rehearsed Man U corner comes to Scholes at the edge of the box. He rifles the ball low and hard through the crowd, and it deflects off Huddlestone's heel and into the back of the net. Poor Tom. Manchester United 1, Spurs 1

36 mins: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL, and Fergie can rejoice! Dimitar Berbatov demonstrates his worth with a nicely-taken goal. It's two former Spurs players doing the damage; Carrick floats a wonderful long ball right into Dimitar's path, and with a mile of space between Dawson and Corluka (you can bet 'Arry is going to have words at half-time), he controls the ball perfectly and smacks the ball past Foster into the bottom left corner. Wonderful goal from a team I absolutely hate. Manchester United 2, Spurs 1

41 mins: How will Spurs respond? Perhaps they need to begin their response by locating Luka Modric, a guy who's touched the ball maybe thrice in this first-half. When their most enterprising player thus far is named David Bentley, there's trouble afoot.

43 mins: Not good from Spurs, although arguably they've performed better in 43 minutes than they did in 118 against Burnley the other night. Bale tries to break the offside trap, but fails miserably. Where o where is Darren Bent?!?!!?

A Modric sighting! He gets possession and with room to run, although his cross to Pavlyuchenko never makes it. United make easy work of the clearance. They've made easy work of everything thus far. Painful.

45 mins + 1: Blow the bloody whistle already. United knock the ball from side-to-side like they're on the training ground while Spurs chase possession half-heartedly.

HALF TIME: Manchester United 2, Spurs 1

And now, a video of Dimitar Berbatov being interviewed by children:

47 mins: Giovani is on for Spurs, replacing the absentee midfielder Luka Modric. Bentley swings in a decent deep cross from the right. Foster leaves it, Vidic leaves it, O'Shea leaves it, but Bale doesn't! He sneaks around the back and catches it on the volley, but it's off his shin and nowhere near the target.

49 mins: Huddlestone does play defender for just a second, blocking off Ronaldo's low cutback after a decent run down the left. Man U waste the corner.

52 mins: United turn on the speed with Tevez again gearing the attack in the middle. He sets Welbeck loose down the right, but Danny boy thunders the cross well into the stands.

54 mins: Fabio knackers his ankle, requiring a substitution. It's another tiny Ginger in the form/shape of Richard Eckersley. I'm assuming this is his first-team debut? O'Shea moves to left-back, proving that inconsistency can be two-footed, and Eckersley takes his spot at right-back.

57 mins: United switch off a bit and give Spurs some time on the ball. Nice of 'em, really. Bale gets free down the left and rockets a cross from one wing to the other. Bentley meets it on the right of the box and is able to unleash a wicked volley, full of power and swerve, but it's miles wide. Still, mildly encouraging for 'Arry and Spurs, although if David is looking to replicate his freakish long-range effort from that 4-4 Arsenal game, he'll have to do better than that. According to conventional wisdom, lightning, and speculative volleys, don't strike twice.

60 mins: The thug in Vidic escapes for a second, as he follows up a poor first-touch with a clumsy lunge into Giovani's legs after losing possession. He gets a yellow card for his efforts.

65 mins: It's Bentley again! Well, almost. Nice counter-attack by Spurs sparked by Giovani down the middle. He finds Gunter wide right, and his cutback sets up nicely for Bentley, but his shot loses some pace via a deflection and ends up in Foster's stomach.

67 mins: Ronaldo's pulling a bit of a Modric at the moment, looking rather quiet out on the left wing. He does get a bit of a run at Gunter, cutting inside and shooting early for the near post, but Alnwick parries it and Corluka clears.

Spurs have a chance! They're subbing out Gareth Bale! On comes Adel Taarabt in his stead.

70 mins: If 'Arry thinks his team aren't really interested, he'll be certain of that now. Bentley's cross is cleared straight up into the sky by Neville, and not a single Spurs player thinks to go after it. It exits orbit, bounces, spends what seems like an eternity in the air before Foster finally comes out to collect. Dire.

71 mins: Ronaldo gets a bit of room up front and forces a good save from Alnwick, briefly waking up the Old Trafford crowd.

The boredom is broken by some substitutions: United remove Ronaldo and give a debut to the New Ronaldo, Goran Tosic, while 'Arry begins to quiet the conspiracy theories that he has no interest in winning by throwing Jermain Defoe on the pitch for a 20-minute runabout. However, he takes off Bentley in the process, arguably Spurs' brightest star this afternoon, so it's all relative.

76 mins: Eckersley wins a free kick for his troubles after wrong-footing Taarabt on the right. Spurs don't clear effectively, giving both Scholes and Carrick a chance to shoot from the top of the box. Scholes' effort was blocked by Zokora/Zokora's stomach, and Carrick tries to bend it round and over the top, succeeding only in giving someone a closer look at the ball in the proverbial Row ZZ.

80 mins: Tevez tries to inspire something in a one-two with Welbeck, but the return from Carlos to Danny ends up in Alnwick's grasp. Poor final ball, summing up the frustration and misfiring of the entire second half for both teams. Absolute rubbish, thus far. I've seen Chelsea-Liverpool EPL games with more gusto and excitement than this.

82 mins: The only player on the pitch with energy levels above that of a heroin addict is Carlos Tevez. There is no Spurs player he will not chase, no loose ball he will not pursue at full speed. Still, one man can't do it all. Spurs win a corner thanks to Vidic. Will something finally happen? Taarabt to take...

... and it's cleared with ease. Huddlestone jogs over to collect the loose ball and attempts to give it back to Taarabt some 40 yards cross-field, but it's out for a United throw. Not good, Tom. Not good.

83 mins: Assou-Ekotto gets free down the left and cuts it back for Giovani, but from a tight angle, he can only volley over the bar. Frustrating stuff.

84 mins: A Spurs equalizer would be nice, but remember: that means we'd have a replay and another 90 minutes of this passionless shite to endure in a couple of weeks, this time at White Hart Lane. That might be a good thing.

86 mins: Welbeck picks up a knock in his attempt to get on the end of a Carlos Tevez pass, and he's subbed off, limping down the tunnel to mild applause. Darren Fletcher replaces him.

So many players haven't justified the ticket price today: Ronaldo, Berbatov (despite the goal), Pavlyuchenko (again, despite the goal), Scholes, Modric, Huddlestone. Tevez and Bentley have given it some effort though. Still, you know Fergie's not putting Carlos ahead of Dimitar or Wayne in that regular first-team XI.

89 mins: Tireless, Tevez attempts to put the game beyond doubt, but he can't do it all himself. Tosic plays a clever chip over the top but Carlos doesn't get to it in time, and Spurs scramble clear.

Four minutes of added time before we can all get on with our lives.

90 mins + 1: If you think Spurs might actually go down this season, I wouldn't disagree at this point. They chase possession against a United side that's only 50% interested in winning, and yet every single time they get it, they immediately give it back. It's Taarabt's turn to receive the ball on the right, jog forward 20 paces before "crossing" right to Gary Neville. Pavlyuchenko could take a nap at the edge of the area if he wanted to. After all, it's not like any of these passes will ever actually make it to him.

90 mins + 3: Last chance saloon as Zokora wins a free-kick. He lofts it into the box towards no-one in particular, and United clear with ease. John O'Shea hoofs it out of play, and 'Arry is bemused once again. What are the odds that he's quietly faxing out his resume when Daniel Levy's out to lunch?

Taarabt shows a flicker of life on the right wing, but Tosic is up to the challenge. Again Taarabt has a go at beating Tosic, and he does, but his cross is a grass-cutter and ends up out for another throw. Another shallow cross and Taarabt, seemingly a magnet for the ball, shoots into a crowd of red shirts. It deflects off Scholes (though I'm not sure he knew much about it) and the Spurs players all appeal frantically for a handball in the area, not because they actually believe it hit their hand, but more because they feel like that's what a player on a desperate team should do at that moment in time. No whistle from ref Walton, and seconds later, he blows for full-time.

Easily the worst half of football I've seen in a long time.

FULL TIME: Manchester United 2, Spurs 1

Ladies and gents, Tottenham are a dire, dire football team. They're awful. Any combination of half-hearted, disinterested players doesn't matter. Any XI they put out yields the same result: 60 seconds of competent football lost amid 89 minutes of passionless ineptitude.

I didn't actually think this relegation zone flirtation would last, but after the performances they've given in the last week, it makes complete and total sense. They're terrible. I feel bad for them. They could actually go down.

Meanwhile, United amble into the 5th Round, keeping the absurd dream of a Quadruple alive. Of course they won't manage it, but it irritates me greatly that they even have an outside chance of making it happen.

That's it for today. Maybe another liveblog tomorrow for Liverpool/Everton (and the potential murder of Tim Cahill), but DEFINITELY ANOTHER LIVEBLOG TONIGHT as Spectator will cover that US/Sweden encounter. After all, we didn't finish as the 4th Best US Soccer Blog without this kind of unbeatable USMNT/USWNT/MLS coverage.

Join us tonight for that, and in the meantime, try to drink the memory of this FA Cup tie out of your brain. It's the only way.


The NY Kid said...


The Likely Lad said...

rooooooooooo! baby!

ΓΌ75 said...

Didn't take long

The Likely Lad said...

that's why huddlestone neeeds to play more once palacios is there as cover.

Precious Roy said...

I think Paul Scholes is aging by the second. I guess we all are but he's just getting more aging per unit time in.

Lingering Bursitis said...

PR: does that mean he's got the same thing Robin Williams had in that movie?

Spectator said...

Paul Scholes is turning into Mrs. Doubtfire?

The NY Kid said...

the Ginger Assassin strikes!

The NY Kid said...

and now Berbs

The Likely Lad said...

death, taxes, and gareth fuckin bale.

The Likely Lad said...

spurs are doing a brilliant job of locking down their 2-1 lead-- what? oh. well that is odd.

Lingering Bursitis said...

Sorry TLL, but after this last week, Spurs are almost certain to go down. No matter who plays from week to week, they're absolutely dire. I'm so sorry.

phil said...

I'm gutted, not at the loss, but at finally realizing that I shall be cheering on a colaship team next season.

BentPav said...

Phil stop being so negative mate. This could be a blessing in disguise. We dont need an FA Cup run. Our squad is hit with some nagging injuries and a replay is the last thing we needed. If we can beat Stoke Tuesday and get 1 or hopefully 3 at Bolton next weekend than I am happy. Chin up Phil, we beat United at Wembley where we beat Spartak last year and we are in Europe. COYS

JT said...

Phil: sorry mate. This can't be easy.

BentPav: you don't need an FA Cup run per se, but anything to give your team self-confidence in their waning abilities has to be a good thing.

Mike Georger said...

As much as I dislike Spurs, I don't really want to see them go down. Stoke and WBA are a foregone conclusion IMO, and seeing 'boro go down would be fantastic. As much as I like Southgate, I just cannot remember the last time I saw them play entertaining soccer (suck it, football). Would be right up there with Charlton as far as teams I don't want to see in the EPL anymore goes.

Frankly I don't see Spurs going down either, they have enough talent to get the requisite points one way or another.

Goat said...

A couple of weeks ago my wife's friend and her boyfriend, a Spurs fan, visited from England. He admitted that since Spurs have become relatively shitty he finds himself hating Arsenal less and less (so much so that he actually bought my 2 year old an Arsenal kit last year)--it's just less of a rivalry when one side is shit. As a Browns fan, I feel the same way about the Steelers. Rivalries are much more fun when they aren't lopsided. I guess that's a roundabout way of saying I hope Spurs don't get relegated. And I wish the Browns weren't shit.

Mike Georger said...


... sorry

Goat said...

No need to apologize. I fully acknowledge the Browns are shit. I must admit, there's a not insignificant part of me that wants them to win the Super Bowl.

Goat said...

The Steelers, I mean. I want the Browns to win a Super Bowl with every fiber (suck it, fibre) of my being.

Magnakai Haaskivi said...

I'm a Browns fan, too, but I find myself hating the Steelers MORE the worse we get. Part of it is because the Steelers are Ike to our Tina, particularly of late. A bigger part, though, is that the amount of success they've had is so out of whack with the amount of success we've had, and they're the door we have to walk through for anything. Before we can even get to the playoffs, we need to beat one of the most consistent teams in the NFL...and it's just not happening.

Mike Georger said...

I find it very hard to feel sorry for a team that decides to offer Derek Anderson a big contract.

Goat said...

MK, I'm from Youngstown which is pretty evenly split between Pittsburgh and Cleveland fans. When the Browns went away, I found myself more drawn to the Steelers because of their blue collar sensibilities which, as a Youngstowner and a Cleveland fan, I find appealing. The Ravens also siphoned off some of my hatred of the Steelers, I think. Now the Pittsburgh Spirit is another matter. I hated those fuckers and will always do so.