Manchester United 0 Portsmouth 0 (MU win 3-1 on pens): United lack cutting edge without fleet feet of Ronaldo
Monday 11 August 2008
Cristiano Ronaldo has proved himself in recent months something of a stranger to self-doubt or, at the very least, someone who seems to believe that the earth orbits according to his own requirements. And yesterday, as he watched from a Wembley executive box, he will have felt no more reason to doubt the value of the man whose face he gazes at in the bathroom mirror every morning.
It came down, quite simply, to goals. On their way to their 13th Community Shield victory, Manchester United were slick in their passing, lively in their movement and dominant in every department over Portsmouth. Not only that, they won 10 corners to their opponents' one, they clipped the bar and they demanded the very best of David James. Their problem was that they failed to express their advantage in goals, which is the commodity in which Ronaldo deals most effectively.
Take the man with 42 goals last season out the team – and remove Wayne Rooney, too – and this is still United, but not as we remember the European champions. Yes, it might only have been the Community Shield game but in many respects it told us a great deal about United.
First of all it was an insight into why Sir Alex Ferguson got on a plane to Lisbon this summer to persuade Ronaldo to stay. Quite frankly, what else could he do? Give up the Premier League's most devastating goal machine and ask Darren Fletcher to chip in with 40-plus goals this season? With respect to the Scottish midfielder it was not just him who passed up his moment in front of goal. Carlos Tevez, excellent though he was, could not find a way past James. Nani looked 10 yards quicker than last season and despite making Sol Campbell appear to travel backwards in his occasional pursuits, the Portuguese international did not prove decisive.
United are still beautiful to watch without Ronaldo, they are still pacey, strong and direct, but they lack that certainty in front of goal that breaks the hearts of opponents. Which is why they were still on the pitch gone 5pm finishing off a Pompey team who cocked-up the penalty shoot-out even more spectacularly than Chelsea in the Champions League final in May.
When Glen Johnson missed the decisive penalty Tevez, who had done the most to breathe life into a United team without Ronaldo and Rooney, led the charge towards Edwin van der Sar. Halfway to the goalkeeper he remembered this was only the Community Shield, jogged to a halt and walked back to his team-mates.
It was that kind of day, the occasion of Ferguson's 30th trophy as United manager something of a non-event. When the Scot talked afterwards about signing a new striker – Dimitar Berbatov in all likelihood – then you could see that he had seen the same things that everyone else had. In Nani, Tevez and Paul Scholes, United are still ready to rip sides apart but they lack the cutting edge with Ronaldo out until October at least and possibly gone for good come next season.
Good job United persuaded Argentina not to take Tevez to the Olympics. He was denied a penalty by the referee Peter Walton in the 75th minute when Herman Hreidarsson appeared to grab the striker's leg as he fell in the penalty area. The reaction was Tevez grabbing his opponent by the throat and shoving him away, a moment of madness that Hreidarsson – to his credit – chose not to exploit. Five minutes earlier James had tipped Tevez's best effort wide.
The "Respect" campaign launched with such fanfare by the Football Association before the game was not in evidence then, nor in the three bookings for Nemanja Vidic, Gary Neville and Sylvain Distin, although Neville, back properly for the first time in 17 months, at least did seem to grasp the importance of not lambasting the referee on this day above all. Other than that it was the save James made in the 49th minute, brushing Fletcher's shot onto the bar, that stuck in the memory.
The anticipated partnership of Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe is still, it seems, very much in the early stages. Neither will feel that they got the service they will need to score goals in the Premier League and, with Pompey's money apparently dried up, this team still looks half-built. Lassana Diarra was excellent until the penalty shoot-out but there is no width in Harry Redknapp's side which will be crucial now they have elected to switch from last season's 4-5-1 to a new 4-4-2 formation.
Portsmouth's performance in the penalty shoot-out was woeful. Diarra and Johnson, their first and fourth penalty-takers, failed to hit the target at all. Arnold Mvuemba had his saved by Van der Sar and only Defoe scored. In contrast, Tevez, Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick all scored.
At the end of the game, Ferguson put his arms around the shoulders of his unused Brazilian substitutes Rafael Da Silva and Rodrigo Possebon and seemed to be telling them to enjoy the experience of their first trophy. These teenagers' careers at United may even outlast Ferguson's at the club but what he needs in the short term is a goalscorer.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Neville (Brown, 67), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Fletcher, O'Shea (Carrick, 67), Scholes, Nani (Campbell, 79); Giggs, Tevez. Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Evans, Da Silva, Possebon.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): James; Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson (Lauren, 80); Diop, Diarra, Mendes (Mvuemba, 75), Kranjcar (Utaka, 60); Defoe, Crouch. Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Sahar, Cranie, Traoré.
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).
Booked: Manchester United Vidic, Neville; Portsmouth Distin.
Man of the match: Tevez.
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