Football FanCast columnist Tristan Mann reacts to the negative press that surrounded this week's Champions League semis and asks if it's any wonder that Man United, Liverpool and Chelsea decided to park the bus, with so much at stake.
Boring, unadventurous and dull. Just some of the words that were used to describe the two Champions League Semi-Final first legs earlier this week. After Liverpool and Chelsea drew 1-1 on Tuesday night, and Manchester United and Barcelona played out a goalless tie the following evening, much has been made about the lack of excitement and cautious tactics displayed by the English team's managers.
Soon after the United game had finished, internet message boards were overflowing with comments about how none of the teams deserved to win the competition because of their defensive set-ups and dull approaches.
These comments were understandable to a certain degree, because most of them came from neutral fans, who obviously were more interested in watching entertaining, high-scoring matches, rather than seeing any of the teams gain the slightest and most vital of advantages due to the way they played. It was an almost certainty that the match at Anfield on Tuesday was going to be a cagey affair. Not just because Rafa Benitez was managing one of the teams, but taking into account the recent history Liverpool and Chelsea have shared in the Champions League. Such were the thin margins of success and defeat between the two teams last season and when Liverpool last won the competition, that neither manager was going to adopt a gung-ho approach, and I don't expect them to in the return leg either.
The match at the Camp Nou was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser. Not by the perceived dullness of it, but the fact that there were no goals. If Ronaldo had scored the early penalty the game would have been a much more open affair, and would probably have seen a couple of goals at least. It was an enthralling game despite Ronaldo's miss, and the second leg now has the potential to be a cracker, with Barca having to score.
However, what the neutral wanted from the games in midweek was not tactical duels, or cautious approaches. But I have to say, what did they expect? Such is importance of the Champions League these days that their outrages at the cautious approaches were fairly ridiculous. If it was their team in the semi-final, I'm not sure how many of them would be bemoaning their team's boring display if they had got a 0-0 at the Camp Nou, or coming away from Anfield with a score draw. The teams left in are in it to win the competition, not entertain the neutrals.
Of course I would have rather watched a couple of high scoring matches in the week, as would have everyone else, but the fact is that they were never going to realistically materialise. First legs, at any stage of the competition are normally less entertaining because the teams use it to feel each other out. Anyone that is surprised that the match at Anfield was so cagey has clearly never watched a match between Liverpool and Chelsea before. And as for the Manchester United game, I think what we saw was a result of the early penalty miss. Once Barca got a grip of the game, Sir Alex Ferguson was more worried about their attacking threat rather than United scoring.
I'm all for open football, but for two Semi-Final first leg matches, what we got was fairly unsurprising. Perhaps The Chelsea match would have been more entertaining if Arsenal and their free-flowing football were in the semis instead of Liverpool. Anyhow, we shall just have to see what next week's matches have in store for us.