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The Old Trafford Experience

This past Tuesday night was a great night for some Champions League soccer across Europe. PSG went up against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. Sevilla hosted Manchester City and Manchester United hosted CSKA Moscow.

I was lucky enough to be at last night’s match between Manchester United and CSKA Moscow. Since I am a huge United fan, going to Old Trafford had always been a dream of mine. The Theatre of Dreams did not disappoint one bit, and it was one of the best sporting experiences of my life.

The Atmosphere:

I’ve been fortunate enough to go to some of the greatest arenas in the world. I’ve been at Madison Square Garden watching the New York Knicks in the playoffs when they actually used to be good. I’ve even been to the San Siro to watch Inter Milan take on Parma in a Serie A match.

Those arenas provided a tremendous atmosphere and Americans could make an argument that Knicks fans at the Garden are some of the best in the world. While it is close, nothing could really top what I experienced at Old Trafford from start to finish.

The weather was basically a typical day in Manchester, plenty of rain with the temperature in the high 40s to low 50s. That was never going to hamper the buzz that could be felt around the ground. This was the first picture I took outside the stadium.

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I hadn’t even been inside the stadium yet but the grandeur of Old Trafford just increased my excitement that much more.

I didn’t necessarily have great seats but I still had a decent view of the pitch and was able to see the flow of the game.

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The buildup around the pitch was a combination of tension and confidence. The fans knew the team had an opportunity to take control of Group B with a win but the team hadn’t scored in five hours of play. I was really hoping that I could leave the stadium having witnessed at least one goal since the team had lacked creativity for a long period of time.

The Match:

As the introductions started along with the Champions League theme, it finally hit me, I was in one of the greatest stadiums in the world.

I apologize for the shaky hand and the guy that got in the way but the sights and sounds on the pitch were still an experience.

Watching the beautiful game live was something I didn’t appreciate as much while I was at the San Siro, in terms of the buildup of play between players on the pitch.

It’s almost easier to follow the pace and tempo of the game live then it is while watching it on TV. I had watched a couple matches at Red Bull Arena with the same intent but the quality of play was obviously never going to be as good.

This game exactly as everyone thought it would, Manchester United had a stranglehold on the possession and the match.

Last week, it simply didn’t work against Crystal Palace who probably deserved to beat United on the day. In this game, CSKA Moscow only had one really good chance the entire game and David De Gea was up to the task like he always is.

The frustration around the stadium continued to build as United went the entire first half without getting a really solid chance on goal. The critics have been getting on Louis Van Gaal recently for the lack of ingenuity going forward.

To his defense, United were trying everything. They were whipping crosses into the box, they were playing the long, searching ball and every time they would make runs behind the defense, they would be offside.

Despite a lack of killer instinct in front of goal, the players who were a joy to watch were Bastian Schweinsteiger and Chris Smalling. There’s a reason why Bayern Munich have been so good for so long and Schweinsteiger one of the biggest reasons why. Schweinsteiger essentially took over an older Michael Carrick’s role and was dictating the tempo left and right.

Anytime someone needed an option, he was there, anytime United needed to compose themselves, he was the one on the ball. His first touch is immaculate and when he needed to go forward, he did with great effectiveness as he would dribble through multiple Moscow players.

Schweinsteiger’s presence just makes it that much easier for Michael Carrick to protect the center backs and be another distributor in the midfield. That’s exactly what happened in the second half.

Louis Van Gaal might not remember Chris Smalling’s name by calling him Michael but he was outstanding from start to finish. His development into our best defender was tough at first but he’s clearly a beast when he’s in the mood and he saved us along with David De Gea.

However, it took a long time for United to finally find the breakthrough. The team continued to probe in instances like these to find a breakthrough.

Again I apologize for the video quality.

United fans rained down a series of boos when Anthony Martial was subbed off for Marouane Fellaini. Martial had worked his socks off all match and taking off a striker for a midfielder when United needed a goal didn’t seem like the best move. Around the 65th minute, these chants started in full force from the fans, including me.

The fans will always be used to a certain type of attacking football that Sir Alex Ferguson provided. Louis Van Gaal’s tactics haven’t been appreciated and rightfully so when the team hasn’t scored in three games.

There’s a history and tradition that the fans want to be followed and this isn’t it. I was thinking to myself, surely I would be able to see one goal? Surely this team wouldn’t go six and half hours without scoring.

Then, the important moment finally came. Michael Carrick, who didn’t have to run around as much, picked out Jesse Lingard who made up for some first half mistakes by lofting in a cross with a right footed volley. It popped up to Wayne Rooney who did the rest.

This feeling of euphoria and relief that came over me was something special. I could actually say I witnessed the team end its goal drought. I could also say I watched Wayne Rooney tie Denis Law for 2nd all-time in goals scored for Manchester United with 237 goals.

That feeling was a rush unlike any other, and it was something I hope I can experience again in the near future. This was a crucial goal at an important time in Manchester United’s season. They now sit atop Group B on seven points with two games left to play against PSV Eindhoven and VFL Wolfsburg.

This was an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I get chills thinking about the players that have come through that stadium, the titles that have been won there, the legendary goals that have been scored there. The Old Trafford experience is something I’ll never forget.

 

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