The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.

We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.

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Speckles of Blood in the Underbrush

Fox hunt

Well, that was a nasty piece of fun, wasn’t it? I don’t have room to list all the feral little moments I enjoyed during the Chelsea-Man Utd match: there was Rooney snarling at Nani; the weird bust-up between Drogba and Ballack, which led to the gorgeous comedy of Ballack turning his back on Drogba and Drogba taking it out on Steve Clarke; Giggs snarling at Nani; Sir Alex, billowing and jacketless, purpling at the referee; Avram Grant struggling to get to his feet to celebrate Ballack’s goal, only to be knocked back down when the assistants on either side of him jumped up first; and Shevchenko, of all forgotten souls, saving the match for Chelsea by hacking the ball off the line.

There were even occasional moments of conflict between members of the two rival teams: the knee > jaw incident that sent Vidic into sparkling realms of the solar system, the inevitable late tangle/scuffle/group push-off the upshot of which was that Drogba wants no part of Rio Ferdinand. Did you notice that? He wasn’t backing down, exactly, but he was advancing in a way that said, “I care about my masculine pride, but I definitely don’t want this to come to anything more than both of us holding our arms straight out in front of us while furiously looking away and possibly bumping into each other.” It was interesting to see that. I don’t know if I would have guessed it. Weasel’s twist, weasel’s tooth.

The two things I’m left with, after everything else: the redemption of Michael Ballack, which he’s just about sneaked in before midnight, and the humiliation of Alex Ferguson, who’s now made bad tactical gambles in two consecutive games. Seriously, can you remember another time when the old man’s been left looking so exposed? Playing cautious at the Camp Nou wasn’t such a bizarre decision in itself, but the eccentricity of the lineup—Rooney as a right back? Tevez as a holding midfielder?—made it look like a case of terminal self-out-thinking, especially given the almost paternal lack of aggression United displayed during the match. On Saturday, not starting Ronaldo was just the wrong decision, even if the ears of the decider have been clipped by the conferring sword. You have a chance to win the championship, you don’t leave your best player on the bench, as they say on ESPN Radio. Barcelona be damned. I mean it.

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Speckles of Blood in the Underbrush

by Brian Phillips · April 28, 2008

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