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Having performed so disappointingly last season, there was a sense of ‘owing’ the fans in the Champions League this time round. Yet again the draw had been kind with United getting, and no disrespect to our opponents, an easy group relative to what we could have got. First up, Galatasaray came to Old Trafford, evoking memories of clashes in the early 90s. Welcome to Hale, (nearly).
Carrick delivers again
Since his non-selection for Euro 2012, England’s failure, and the success of Pirlo, much has been written about Carrick and his qualities. His importance to his club though, is considerably greater than his country and much more appreciated. People describe his metronomic – that suggests accurate repetition but also implies a dullness, something Carrick’s not.
It’s never a surprise that after games he’s often run further than any of his teammates. Indeed, last night was one such occasion – paired with Scholes and often overrun, he had to cover a lot of ground. Far from being immobile as is sometimes perceived, he simply understands where space is and how to use it, often meaning that his movements come off the ball and therefore aren’t always noticed.
Carrick’s importance to United is clear – he’s the most consistent midfielder and is the only player to have played every minute so far this season (in all competitions). Some bemoan the fact he chooses to pass sideways and backwards sometimes – but they’re often the people who don’t realise the value in retaining possession. The same people who probably don’t realise how good a defender he is – often, like Rio, not needing to go to ground because he reads the game so well.
Last night he was unquestionably United’s best performer although that potentially says more about his teammates than him. His goal showed what he’s very capable of when the shackles are off – a rare foray forward showed intelligence in the run and quick feet in the build up. The finish was calm – rounding the keeper is a skill seen less these days but something to enjoy. He could of course gone down, won a penalty, and seen the goalkeeper sent off but given that we can’t seem to score from the spot, it’s good he didn’t!
Wingers – cause for concern?
OF all the areas to worry about, you’d have thought wingers wouldn’t be one. Yet, something’s not quite right at the moment. With Young injured, United only have two wingers – Valencia and Nani. Both should be playing on ability anyway but at present neither are overly convincing.
Since being given the number 7 shirt, Valencia has decided to morph into a lesser version of himself. Power has been replaced by moments of skill and he’s inexplicably forgotten how to cross. There are still some fizzed low balls but many are being over hit. Fans like him so he tends not to get the same criticism as say Nani, but his current form certainly warrants questioning. Maybe he’s simply trying too hard?!
As for Nani – he’ll forever frustrate and infuriate, that’s the nature of wingers. They can afford to take risks to create chances. For every silly thing Nani does he’ll create an opening – his value to the side remains high. His penalty was poor, a silly run up like that always shouted “miss”, odd given he’s been clinical from 12 yards in the past. Actually he was United’s most dangerous player, particularly in the second half. Playing with freedom to roam, he was able to pick the ball up in various areas of the pitch and proved hard to pick up.
There’s a wider question here – do United need a fourth winger and specifically a left winger? Nani’s better from the right but Valencia has that spot. Giggs is no longer a winger and Brady isn’t ready. Could Buttner provide cover there if needed or will we continue to see more of Welbeck used in an annoying wide berth? Wing play has been so important to United through their history – it’s important to get this right again.
To be honest, I didn’t think Fletcher would play for United’s first team again. His condition is one that requires management rather than healing and as such, one got the impression that it would very difficult to manage it whilst trying to get back to the high standard of physical condition required to play for United.
These are early days for Darren but his 16 minute cameo was a welcomed sight, if only just so Old Trafford could give the man a standing ovation. His return to the first team followed some encouraging performances with the U21s but even so, he was way off the pace against Galatasaray. In fact, he was like a passenger and although harsh, United effectively had less than 11 men on the pitch when he came on – everything looked too quick for him and he was sluggish on the ball. That’s not his fault of course but maybe one could question Fergie’s decision to bring him on at a time when United were under pressure and trying to see out a game. If it was fresh legs he needed, Anderson would have been the better option.
Still, welcome back Darren, you’ve been missed.
You could be forgiven for thinking you’d been teleported back 12 months. Despite a clean sheet, a win, and a strong starting line up, United managed to make hard-work of beating Galatasaray. Another referee may have awarded further penalties too – Galatasaray were denied two very obvious spot kicks whilst United could have easily been awarded one or two more.
The game will probably be remembered by United fans for the return of Darren Fletcher – the most likable of players. His cameo might have been both short and poor but it lifted a largely flat crowd. His central midfield partner, Michael Carrick, scored United’s only goal – a composed finish when others may have panicked. Oddly, a game that felt so forgettable had a fair few exceptional moments, as noted on the excellent Beautifully Red blog. Most importantly, United have a win and something to build on heading into the game away to Cluj on the 2nd October. Roll on Anfield…