Beautiful football? Forget it. This is the United way
Valencia 0-1 Manchester Utd: Observations
FC Barcelona it was not. Yet, that did not matter as this ugly ‘showpiece’ ended in typical United-like fashion – snatching a last-gasp winner in a performance where the adjective “unconvincing” does not quite tell the whole story.
The armchair folks from the so-called pretty boys of the south, Arsenal, were surely not impressed. They adore beautiful football, (maybe not as much as the genuine pretty-boys, Barcelona, but that’s for another day…) and that’s what they got here, except they didn’t. On paper, it looked a tasty encounter, yet, if not for some overdue drama at the death, this would surely be viewed as a drab, drab encounter.
Things were so scrappy, and ugly, that the neutrals would have been quick to reach for their remote and tune into some tacky celebrity show on ITV2 instead. Pundits often describe Valencia’s home, the Mestalla, as lively and atmospheric but at times, it had the feel of a funeral. Eerie and not great viewing. And it wasn’t helped by the fact Adrian Chiles was presenting. This isn’t suggesting that United don’t play easy on the eye football, because they usually do, however, yesterday was an exception.
Yet, football isn’t all pretty. On nights like these, beauty doesn’t matter but in some ways, the ugly is sometimes regarded as ‘beautiful’. At the end of the day, Manchester United should be happy to have taken all three points and earned a clean sheet against a difficult Spanish outfit in their backyard. There maybe a hyperbole too many in this article, but United weren’t that bad – but despite was those might say, Valencia weren’t so great either.
The visitors gameplan was simple – remain compact and tight, containing the opponents so as to stop leaking goals like they have done so often in recent games and keep possession. The role of Anderson was a surprise as he was given the duty of the destroyer. “Mark number 6” was Sir Alex Ferguson often heard and seen gesticulating as the Brazilian midfielder was ordered kept tabs on Valencia’s deep-lying schemer, David Albelda. The return of Rio Ferdinand meant an assuring presence at the back but he inadvertently added to the comatose encounter. Sir Alex said Ferdinand’s passing would be key but rather, by keeping possessing longer than they normally do, they lost the urgency they normally display.
Admittedly, the Red Devils had some luck along the way but they were successful; yes? In the final third, United lacked the cutting edge and the 4-3-3 system was something out of Dimitar Berbatov’s comfort zone. He lacked support as Darren Fletcher, Anderson and Ji-Sung Park were too preoccupied with other duties while Nani went about with his usual flamboyancy but without much help, and that made him look stupid at times. Indeed, United had only won the game when Fergie brought on two subs to change the system; and the match.
On came Kiko Macheda and Javier Hernandez, and once United were able to get the ball into the right areas, things suddenly started to materialise. First, Hernandez had hit the post and the game began opening up, even if 85 minutes were on the clock. The goal came shortly after, Macheda spotting Chicharito making a dart into the box and when the Mexican had collected the ball, he intelligently cut away and finished with much conviction. It would only have taken something special to win this dire game, and that’s exactly what United got via Hernandez. While it wasn’t quite Barcelona-esque, at least United got three points; something pretty Barca didn’t achieve on Wednesday having been held by Rubin Kazan…