Choke or Not: Manchester Derby Exposes United

Posted: May 3, 2012 in ALL II
Tags: , , , ,

Often times Americans lose sight of their place in the world and what matters versus what MATTERS.  Monday’s Manchester Darby represents the most recent example of how important soccer is to the world.  Manchester City defeated Manchester United 1-0 to take over the top spot in the Barclays Premier League with two games remaining.  The match, full of intensity and drama, enjoyed an audience three times as large as the Super Bowl on a Monday night!  650 million viewers turned in to see the game widely regarded as deciding the championship.  Of course this was not the case one month ago.  On April 2, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was not being chastised for his conservative techniques and desire to tweak his lineup more than Joe Girardi in the playoffs.  United was in the midst of running away with the title after wrestling the lead from City.  United won its past seven games and enjoyed a five point advantage on a tired City squad.  (3 points are awarded for wins, 1 point for draws, and 0 for losses).  The experience and tactics appeared to emerge supreme over the dull play on the pitch.  Then things fell apart.

United would win its next game with City losing to Arsenal, extending their lead to eight points with a relatively soft schedule remaining.  With everyone anointing United as champions, Wigan Athletic – a team in the relegation zone (bottom three team in the Premiership) beat United 1-0.  After reestablishing their footing to beat Aston Villa 4-0 and nursing a 5-point lead over City, United, dare I say, CHOKED to draw with seventh place (and inferior unit) Everton.  United blew a two goal advantage in the final ten minutes (including two goals within two minutes of each other) and only held a three point advantage over City entering Monday’s showdown, and of course they lost.  For all of United’s tactics and talent, City is more athletics and formidable.  Phil Jones and Chris Smalling (beaten on the only goal of the game) appeared too unprepared for the big stage.  Ferguson’s 4-5-1 featuring Park Ji-Sung, as adequately described by Grantland’s Chris Ryan, represented the over-emphasis on defense thereby posing no real threat to counterattack of score.

United and City are actually tied atop the standings with goal differential being the tie breaker, a category City owns.  (Why isn’t individual record not the first tie breaker?  Seems very backwards to me but I am American so what do I know) City’s remaining games against Newcastle and Queens Park Rangers is harder than United’s but the pressure is on them to finish the deal.

If you did not watch the game, you should because it was a classic contest full of drama, tactical brilliance (despite my criticisms of Ferguson, the defense did play alright and it’s not like United was going to out run City) and an incredible atmosphere.

More to this blog’s point, is this the latest example of something that may be a choke?  Pressure to win out really wasn’t on United as they held a large lead and weak talent that they did not bring their A-game to defeat.  Was this complacency versus choking?  I’d argue being complacent is a form of choking, perhaps more indefensible than crumbling to intense pressure based on winning in a single-elimination tournament or in a weekly battle for number one.  I won’t bag on United for losing this game, a game I expected them to lose, but the previous poor performances throughout April are hard to defend.  Looks and smells like a choke job but only time will tell.  Two weeks to go and ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!!!


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