CFR Cluj 1-2 Man United: Rooney to Robin and some winning performances

Robin van Persie celebrates his second goal with Wayne Rooney

Author: Doron

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Game two of this season’s Champions League adventure saw United go to Romania for the second season running. Last year it was Otelul Galati, this year it’s CFR Cluj. United left some experience back in Manchester though to rest or recover – Giggs, Scholes and Carrick opened up spots for some home-grown youngsters instead – Lingard, Tunnicliffe and Michael Keane. Cluj were something of an unknown quantity but nevertheless, a win was expected.

Starting line up – no width

Despite the fact Rooney and Cleverley were shown as wingers on the teamsheet, United lined up without any natural width. Valencia and Young remained injured and as such, when Nani’s started, United have looked lopsided with clear focus being put on the wing he’s playing on. With three central midfielders, two strikers and a link-man in between, it was arguably the most balanced United side for some time.

For a club that has placed so much emphasis on width throughout its history, it was an odd to watch them try and play through the middle for most of the time. Rafael and Evra, particularly in the second half, did their best to stretch Cluj and get forward, but for most of the time, the focus was on getting one of Cleverley, Anderson or Rooney on the ball centrally so they could try and squeeze a ball through to Hernandez or van Persie.

Did the system work? It’s hard to know whether to dub it a success or not. When Cluj attacked, often on the counter and with a fair few players committed, they found quite a bit of space behind our midfield, even with Fletcher sitting deep. At times Cleverley and Anderson were a tad slow to get back but the work-rate of the players in general was good. The biggest benefit was to have strength in numbers in the middle with players who were good at keeping the ball. United’s dominance in possession and patience was refreshing to see and there were some really watchable passages of play.

Behind again

Three wins away from home our of four is a solid start to the season – even more so when you consider that United have gone behind in all three. In fact, United have fallen a goal down in six of their nine games so far this season. Thankfully the powers of recovery that are immersed into the club mean that United have done pretty well to get something out of nothing but it’s a worrying trend.

Last night, with almost their first attack, Cluj went ahead. It was something of a routine goal too – long ball, cross and a pretty average finish. Evra will get the bulk of the criticism and rightly so – he was slow to turn, slow to try and get close to his man, beaten too easily and therefore allowed the Cluj winger to get a cross in. Maybe Evans could have cut it out, maybe de Gea could have saved it but Evra’s defending was amateur. At half time Fergie described the goal as a “shocker”.

Evra’s form the start of this season has been worrying. His decline has been well documented although some of the criticism had been over the top. He’s played more than anyone else without a break and often has minimal protection from his winger – last night he didn’t even have a winger to help cover for him. Fans generally like him because of how he speaks about the club – with passion, he ‘gets’ United. However, at 31, he not only needs to be rested more but his position in the team and squad needs addressing. If need be, plans for his and United’s future need making. Ideally, he’ll rediscover a level of performance that is good enough but right now there are simply too many errors being made that he’s responsible for.

Rooney to van Persie

Our first chance to see Rooney and van Persie from the start of a game and they didn’t disappoint – or so you’d think. Rooney set up both of Robin’s goals – the first a somewhat fortunate shoulder (yes, shoulder) over the keeper; the second, a goal of serious quality. Rooney’s ball over the top was excellent, Robin’s flicked first time finish was excellent but it was the faith in each other than is most heartwarming. Robin made the run knowing Wayne had the vision and ability to find him – Wayne played the pass knowing Robin had the cleverness to make that run and the technical skill to put the ball in the net. The trust in one another and understanding is hugely encouraging.

That goal aside, there was little to suggest that their partnership had taken off. That’s no criticism of either of them but the nature of how the game was played didn’t really allow for any striking partnerships to take off. There was minimal chance for link-up with Cluj so deep and with so many men behind the ball. Still, that second goal was magical and hopefully a taste of things to come.

The winners

Fergie made six changes from the weekend’s defeat against Spurs and three of them can be absolutely delighted with how they played.

David de Gea is inexplicably not our firm first choice and although maybe he could have done better on Cluj’s goal, he was otherwise close to flawless. Untested for much of the game he showed that his concentration is excellent when he was called to make important late saves (one of which really was excellent) and take some dangerous cross (all caught). On a bobbly pitch, his ball control was as good as any outfield player and although his distribution wasn’t as good as usual, he was often closed down fast and put under pressure. Surely he can’t be dropped again?

In the middle, Anderson and Cleverley did well. Tom was busy, always wanting the ball and used it well with a couple of delightful through-balls in tight situations. His energy and quick, close control showed potentially some of what United could have done with in the first half against Spurs. Although I’m not too sure who he’d replace (from the second half XI against Spurs), he has be a serious contender to start at the weekend. Anderson not only lasted a full game (just), but he was also energetic in the middle. He’s arguably the best midfielder at the club when it comes to picking the ball up deep and driving forward with it – again, it’s something that has been missed recently and his solid performance can only be good for Fergie’s selection problems (tombola).

Notable mentions must go to Fletcher, Wootton and Rafael. Another 90 minutes for Darren and although it is odd to see him just sit in a position rather than go box-to-box, he did fine. Scott Wootton has little to do as he came on as a late sub but a Champions League debut a week after his first team debut caps a very good week for him. For Rafael – it was arguably his best defensive performance of the season. Everything from positioning to marking was spot on – a job well done.


Two wins from two and top of the group is a perfect start to the Champions League. Both performances, against Galatasaray and Cluj could be and should be better but ensuring progression from the group is key.

United lined up with plenty of central players in a 4-3-1-2 formation that lacked width. The game was generally played in the Cluj half with United dominating possession but that didn’t stop Cluj taking the lead. The goal, met with laughter from me (conceding first is now expected rather than a surprise) was soft and poor to give away. Evra in particular should be singled out for providing a lesson in how not to defend.

Robin van Persie ensured United would win the game though – a looping shoulder before half time pulled one back and then a sublime flick from an accurate Rooney pass was enough to win the game early in the second half. Few chances were created and it seems a shame United could get a few more goals, especially because de Gea had to play his part in making sure three points were won rather than one with some excellent late saves.

The one fitness concern will be Jonny Evans who again got a dead leg and had to be substituted off late on. He has five days to recover for Newcastle away on Sunday.

7 Comments on CFR Cluj 1-2 Man United: Rooney to Robin and some winning performances

  1. Wayne Rooney is world class! Great having him back in the team. He looks fit and strong and really hungry! Great to see. Could have been a different outcome vs Spurs if he’d started…
    RvP is a boss! 7 goals for us now in all competitions. Incredible! Don’t care how he scores…as long as the ball lands up in the back of the net. Let’s just hope he stays fit and keeps banging them in…
    Can’t wait for Newcastle away now. Surely Fergie has to start either Anderson or Cleverley alongside scholes or carrick. Would love to see Buttner get a rare start again but can’t see it happening. Hope Evans recovers as well. Good 3 points lads and if we win our next game vs Braga, our CL campaighn will be well on its way.

  2. @Pat-Rice – can’t mention every player. Not his fault that Cluj played incredibly deep and that he likes playing against defences that hold a high line. His job is to put the ball in the net and we were able to create nothing for him. That’s not his fault. His link-up play was fine and yep he was on the fringes of the game but think that’s more to do with how the game panned out than him.

  3. It was also finally nice to see rvp looking at home. his short 1-2s passes,control were excellent yesterday and u also mentioned that clevz and ando were good in the match,well that’s because they had d.fletcher doing the defensive work in the midfield while they roam about,trying to find rooney,who then try to pick either rvp or chicha with a through pass… Also imagine the damage we could do if we had tiote/m’vila playing the fletcher role.! Like a friend said “utd are 1 or 2 signings away from being unstoppable”.

  4. Pat-Rice @ 4:16: “Surely Fergie has to start either Anderson or Cleverley alongside scholes or carrick.”

    Rule 1 = SAF “does what he wants”. Rule 2 = go back to Rule 1.

    After the last two mid-week performances it would seem logical to start with Anderson/YoungTom ahead of Michael Carrick (or DarrenFletcherinho) but logic doesn’t seem to be part of Rule 1 (above). Surely it would make sense to start Anderson/YoungTom and bring on TheGingerNinja when he needs something extra or something different but go back to Rule 1.

    Complicating matters might be the status of Jonny Evans – if he’s not fit to start then Michael Carrick will probably play and that means SAF has a real headache in figuring out what he’s going to do with his midfield. Fortunately, the next match is on Sunday so there’s enough time for DarrenFletcherinho to re-gain some strength to provide added height which will be necessary against Newcastle’s forwards.

  5. My own perosnal chant I made for Robin van Persie…van Persie oooah van Persie oooah, he comes from Rotterdam – he is the fucking man…van Persie oooah, van Persie oooah…….

    Fergie hit the jackpot…what a buy! Still can’t believe he plays for United! Love it! ORVP ORVP ORVP

  6. The game against Newcastle last week was a clear dress rehearsal for this game. Exactly same tactical approach. Three in the middle supplemented by a deep withdrawn centre forward in Rooney, making a midfield diamond. Control possession, keep ball but at the expense of width and often without any cutting edge up front, (occasional moments of brilliance from Rooney and RVP excepted).

    I don’t think Nani didn’t play because of any concern about the team being lopsided, but rather because:

    1. It didn’t fit with this tactical approach, and
    2. His recent performances have been very poor.

    I think 1. was more significant than 2. here.

    Width when it came was provided by the fullbacks pushing on, and as against Newcastle they did more of this in the second half.

    It appear that this tactical approach is Sir Alex’s current preference when he wants to keep things tight. Problem is the lack of width encourages teams to attack us in wide areas and if they can get crosses in from those positions then currently with our centre-back/goalkeeper issues we look vulnerable to this.

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