By Harry Sherlock.
Being asked to pick your favourite Manchester United game of all time, and then write about it, is akin to being asked to pick your favourite child.
So many memories instantly pop into your head – that majestic night in Barcelona in 1999, the 6-1 thrashing of Arsenal, the 1-0 aggregate win over Barcelona, the 2008 penalty shootout triumph in Moscow, the 8-2 mauling of Arsenal. But then there’s one that stands out. That one night, or day, that you just thought, “that was breathtaking.”
For me, that game occurred in the Champions League quarter final of 2007, where Manchester United, trailing a decent Roma side 2-1 from the first leg, smacked 7 past their shell-shocked Italian counterparts.
United went into the game with a decent chance, as Wayne Rooney’s away goal in Italy had given the United faithful hope that the Red Devils could overturn their slight deficit in front of a packed Old Trafford.
They did more than that.
That night, everything clicked. Every single United outfield player was outstanding, with Michael Carrick pulling the strings from midfield, Alan Smith like a bulldog in and around the centre of the pitch, Cristiano Ronaldo at his brilliant best and Wayne Rooney playing in the hole so well, that he may as well have had a ball to himself.
Before the game, though, scuffles between Roma’s infamous ‘ultras’ and some hardcore United fans threatened to taint the memory of what was sure to be a fine game of football.
After all, Roma lined up with such stars as midfield general Daniele De Rossi, world class trequartista Francesco Totti and the ever experienced Doni in goal.
United countered that with a line up including the aforementioned Ronaldo, Giggs, Rooney and Edwin van der Sar.
It had everything going for it, and many were expecting a tight game, a game that’d be settled by a moment of magic from one of the sides major stars.
United immediately went for the jugular, with Michael Carrick curling a delicious drive into the top corner with only 11 minutes gone. As ITV’s Clive Tyldesley, who was commentating that night said, “United hit the front” almost before Roma could draw breath.
Alan Smith, or as Tyldesley described him “United’s forgotten man” added a second, with a lovely half volley from just inside the penalty area. The second came just 6 minutes after Carrick’s first, and Roma looked sucker punched. While many English teams in Europe may have sat back and defended what they had, United kept going, and boy did they reap their rewards.
Just 2 minutes later Wayne Rooney ended the game as a contest with a magical goal, which lives long in the memory, purely because of Tyldesley’s fantastic commentary. His shout of “Rooney! Magical Manchester United” when the ball hit the back of the net following a move involving Ronaldo beating two players, before playing it to Giggs, who supplied a cross for Rooney to stroke home, summed up United’s night before it had really began.
It was Ronaldo who added a fourth, beating Christian Chivu before smashing the ball past a helpless Doni in goal. Simplicity made the goal beautiful, and it was all his own work. His goal meant United led 4-0 at half time. In a Champions League game, especially against Italian opposition, that would have been something special in itself.
But then, as the clock ticked over to the 49th minute, Cristiano Ronaldo scored again, converting a cross from Ryan Giggs to make it 5-0 on the night and 6-2 on aggregate.
Michael Carrick completed his brace, and added United’s sixth on the hour mark, with a goal that even outshone his first. Swivelling to control a pass from Gabriel Heinze, he answered the cries of ‘shoot’ from the crowd, by simply passing the ball into the top corner. As Tyldesley put it, it was “another majestic goal” and Roma would have been forgiven for simply giving up there and then.
They didn’t however, and it was Daniele De Rossi who pulled one back, and made it 6-1, with a beautifully delivered volley from inside United’s penalty box. I doubt that people will hold a grudge if I say that De Rossi’s goal was one of the finest of the night.
As if to restore order, Patrice Evra took it upon himself to add a seventh for United, as he stroked one home from outside the box that hit the post before it hit the back of the net. It might not have been the most beautiful of goals, and it couldn’t hold a candle to the strikes of Carrick or the first from Ronaldo, but the fact that a left back (playing at right back as a second half substitute) who entered the game as a substitute, and one who rarely scored at that, capped a scintillating performance seemed almost poetic – as if every single facet of that United team had clicked into gear so ferociously, that anyone could get on the score-sheet.
Of course, United would end up crashing out of the Champions League to eventual winners AC Milan, but their demolition of AS Roma served as a warning to all of Europe, and foreshadowed the incredible victory of 2008.
Obviously, I could have chosen that night to write about, or any other United thrashings that just popped into my head, but the real reason that I chose the 7-1 victory is because it was Manchester United at their magnificent best, not content to sit back, but full of attacking bravado and intent, leading to a phenomenal victory that seemed to shake football to it’s very core.
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