Football: Impressive McManaman makes a dazzling impression

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The Independent Online
One moment he was taking a free-kick on the edge of his own penalty area, the next he was having a shot from the edge of Celtic's. He ran at and after people, he chased, he tackled, he dribbled. He even found time to joke with opponents and cajole his colleagues. Steve McManaman, according to Glenn Hoddle, "still has a bit of his game to come back." It was not immediately clear last night just which bit is still missing.

Maybe the England coach was referring to his team-mates, the majority of whom were definitely off their game. For much of last night's tie only the wiles of McManaman offered any hope of a Liverpool goal. Celtic visibly quivered when he ran at them. Beginning on the right before switching to the left he tortured Celtic, his legendary stamina enabling him, as it does Juninho, to continue running at the heart of the defence when others tired.

"He can scare you to death when he is running at you," said Alan Stubbs, the Celtic defender. "He has been in brilliant form the last few weeks."

Even when there was a lull in play McManaman did not stop. His willingness to express a tactical opinion is said to have won few friends in the England hierarchy and he did not hesitate from telling first Paul Ince, then Stig Inge Bjornebye, where he believed the team were going wrong.

Celtic had acknowledged McManaman's threat by giving David Hannah the task of man-marking him. This has been done successfully, notably by Sheffield Wednesday's Peter Atherton, but not in the way Hannah attempted it. By standing off the Liverpool winger, and even having the temerity to attempt to take part in the play at times, Hannah handed Macca the advantage.

This was an error. Marking McManaman is hard enough without allowing him to gain possession in comfort. Once he has it, his pace and quick feet make him hard to tackle. No one, in his two recent individual goals against Celtic and Aston Villa, made any contact with him.

Last night he would run straight at Hannah, turning him this way and that as the defender unsuccessfully tried to steer him away. Once in the penalty area, no one dared put a foot in but, always, the final ball was wasted by his team-mates or went astray.

This, along with his inconsistent shooting, is his great weakness and probably where Hoddle's reservations lie. Tellingly his best pass was an early one, when he was not concentrating on his footwork, to Michael Owen late in the second half.

Ray Clemence, Hoddle's spy, will still have been impressed with him. Roy Evans was.

"He was terrific on and off the ball," said the Liverpool manager. And, in the final analysis, all agreed that McManaman's goal at Parkhead had settled the tie. "It was a wonder goal and it made the difference," said Celtic's Simon Donnelly in reluctant admiration.

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