We're halfway through the Champions League semifinals, and we've seen some bizarre behavior from the three participating English clubs.
Call it organization. Call it
To do well in the knockout phase of the Champions League, you need to treat each tie as one 180-minute game and, more importantly, stopping your opponent from playing is more important than imposing yourself on the game.
"This is what English teams do in Europe now,"
When it comes to Liverpool and Chelsea, this is no surprise. Benítez has always based his teams on the same principles. A superb tactician (who occasionally gets things spectacularly wrong: see
Chelsea was the same way under
But Man. United is a whole other story.
Sir Alex's "strikerless system," with
Yet when it comes to the Champions League, it has been a very different United. You saw shades of it against Roma in the quarterfinals. Facing a team without its far and away best player,
It was no different at the Camp Nou on Wednesday. United went there with one clear objective: Don't concede and we'll nail them at Old Trafford. In and of itself, it's not a huge deal, it's just weird that, domestically, United is so different.
There are two ways to look at it. On the one hand, United deserves praise for its tactical flexibility. Being able to play one way last Saturday against Blackburn and in a diametrically opposed way four days later against Barcelona is a skill. It demands application, intelligence and discipline, both from the coaching staff and the players.
On the other hand, the result is a very sterile approach, given United's galaxy of stars. And I'm not sure the premise on which it's based, that you have to play that way in Europe is an accurate one.
Take a look at the teams that have won the Champions League in the last 10 years: Real Madrid (3 times), AC Milan (twice), Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Porto and Liverpool. Only the latter two -- plus, arguably, Bayern in 2001 -- played that way.
And, with all due respect, look at who they had up front. Porto had
Are we so sure this kind of approach actually works?