Date: 21st February 2008 at 10:09am
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Not bad. Prior to the game I was not convinced of the wisdom of playing Scholes and Giggs in a game where we were set to do damage on the counter-attack – and I must say that despite a couple of wonderful passes from Giggs, Fletcher and Nani would have served us better in this match.

The Stade Gerland’s atmosphere was fantastic and Lyon tried to build up some early momentum encouraged by the rapturous crowd. United held firm though with Karim Benzema struggling between Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. The hosts best player early on was Sydney Govou who caused a few uncomfortable moments but with 20 minutes gone, United took control of this match after breathing a sigh of relief seeing Benzema’s shot flashing over the bar.

Lyon still had more of the ball but due to Owen Hargreaves’s excellent work they threatened little whereas we came close three times in the remainder of the half. The biggest chance was the first: Giggs’ wonderfully measured pass was controlled by a beautiful first touch from Rooney who proceeded to beat his defender easily but failed to lift the ball over the advancing Coupét.

Great goalkeeping it was and there were some great defending later on when Giggs set up Scholes in the box who was only denied by a desperate block from Boumsong who diverted the ball into a corner. Ronaldo also came within moments of shooting but for Toulalan’s block and after a Giggs corner, the Portuguese headed over the bar from a good position.

However, after 45 minutes I was forced to conclude that if we intend to hit them on the break, it’s a mistake to have Giggs and especially Scholes on the field. Fergie’s teamtalk, I bet, was about keeping the ball as that’s one of his obsessions with Europe – and that’s what United did after the break.

We kept the ball very well without ever threatening until Benzema, surrounded by four United players, picked up a pass and smashed in a low shot from 25 yards. A goal out of nowhere and Fergie soon brought Giggs and Scholes off, replacing them with Nani and Tevez. The pressure became relentless but we had a couple of scares at the back (though nothing like that in the first half when Rio almost put a harmless cross past Van der Sar…) but we threatened little as Lyon defended with 10 men and boy, they did it well.

Anderson was far from his best and once again we failed to exploit the fact that two men were following Ronaldo’s every footstep thus freeing up valuable space for us on the pitch. But it was Ronaldo’s freekick, close to the final minutes with a goal already disallowed for offside, which brought the salvation: it was tipped over the bar by Coupét and from the resulting corner Carrick’s shot was blocked,the ball found its way to Nani whose cross was failed to clear by two defenders and Tevez pounced at the near post to put us into the driving seat in this tie.

Player ratings to follow later.