United: Results a must, attractive football an option
Manchester United 1-1 Valencia CF: Match Observations
Attractive football? Well, no. More Bolton than Barcelona? Probably. But that was a secondary concern at Old Trafford; United fielded a strong side and they set their sights on top-spot qualification, and that only. While we’ve seen Manchester United play football in the manner you’d hardly associate with them in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League, they have still been rather impressive, albeit in a less similar way.
For, Manchester United have, throughout this early stage of Europe’s most prestigious competition, hardly been fazed by opposition – home or away – and despite (you might consider this game as an exception) a spirited effort by Valencia in a game which they threatened to steal, they have ultimately, at this phase, defended without much trouble. Sure, as United progress they will come across Europe’s bigger fish; who most probably possess a Brazilian-powerhouse with a weird, yet admittedly cool, nickname.
However, there is no such shame going nearly 500 minutes since conceding a goal. Group stages or not. Say what you might about Rangers or that team which proved to be anything but a Turkish delight, Bursaspor, United have been solid. It’s a far-cry from the constant leaking of goals in the Premier League and so, United’s back four have much reason to hold their heads high. But the deluded optimism stops there, as things have not always run so smoothly.
Seven goals in six is hardly something you’d brag about; especially, when you compare it to Valencia’s total of 15. You can put that down to a number of reasons, be it that United’s first choice front two, Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney, have been far too inconsistent. As ever, Berbatov was his usual self. Though rather poor in front of goal, he was as good as ever at linking up play and creating opportunities. Rooney, however, was flawless. Spoilt by space, the Englishman constantly proved an irritant for the Spaniards, switching seamlessly to midfield and back and, like his strike partner, created chances with his ever-so intelligent movement and technique.
Anderson, scorer of the equaliser, was instrumental down the centre. Tireless. With Michael Carrick, he prospered. Carrick, assured with the ball throughout (apart from this instance), managed a lapse in concentration and Pablo Hernandez capitalised on his error to put the visitors ahead. Valencia were dangerous on the counter and, though at times thwarted by the imperious Da Silva duo, had plenty of chances to score more. Even without Roberto Soldado and Juan Mata, both of whom started on the bench.
United were, by no means, outplayed. They did seem lost in the first 45, and were clearly in need of kick up the backside. After the break, they were hardly fluent and full of verve but they battled hard and found a deserved equaliser. 14 points, top of the group, unbeaten. Exceptional, considering that United have played so ugly, so hideously in the group phase. But, who cares? Onwards and upwards as they say…