I was on holiday when we played Rangers in our first Champions League game and completely missed it and only got to hear of the score when I got chatting to a couple of Rangers fans who were staying at the same hotel.
They were understandably delighted with a point picked up at Old Trafford as it was probably, on paper, the toughest fixture in the group.
I wasn’t quite so happy with it though. 0-0 at home against any opposition just felt like two points dropped to me and given that our next fixture was away to Valencia, there was a real worry that we could find ourselves with just a point or two from our opening two fixtures – especially given our recent away record, general record against Spanish teams in Spain and injury problems.
However, last night’s 1-0 win over Valencia has put us right back on track and four points from the opening two fixtures is more like what I would have hoped for – even if the source of those points was a bit unexpected.
As I have said, I have been away recently and have missed a total of four games whilst away so I have been a bit out of touch with who has been playing but it did seem to me that we had four players on the pitch last night who have not played very much football recently (Rafael, Carrick, Anderson and Ferdinand). It is common for a player coming back from injury to be a bit rusty so to have four players who were coming back from a mixture of injury and bad form all starting in such an important game was hardly ideal.
The overall performance by United wasn’t particularly sparkling last night but I do think that when you consider the above, it was largely to be expected.
Fergie decided to go with Berbatov alone upfront and despite working hard, he didn’t really get too much in the way of opportunities and the one shot he did manage was saved quite easily.
Rafael came back into the side for O’Shea and I was pleased to see this. There was a suspicion that Rafael was still being made to pay for his mistake against Bayern last season which would seem a little harsh but, by all accounts, O’Shea hasn’t exactly been setting the world alight with his displays so far this season. I certainly saw very little wrong with Rafael’s performance last night and I hope he gets another run of games again now.
The performances of Carrick and Anderson in midfield were always going to come in for a lot of scrutiny and I suspect the jury will still be out on both of them. A lot of the work Carrick does goes largely unnoticed – he never stops working to shield the back four and prevents a lot of the opponent’s attacking moves from going anywhere – it is a lesson in how to play the game without ever touching the ball. The problem is, of course, that when he does touch the ball, he doesn’t exactly come across as the greatest exponent of the art of passing – which was supposedly one his main assets when he came to the club!
Anderson was quite impressive without doing a great deal either. His position last night appeared to be slightly more advanced than Carrick or Fletcher’s which is fine except we all know that Anderson and goals are two words rarely mentioned in the same sentence.
The name on everyone’s lips at the end though, was of course, Hernandez (or Chicharito) who scored our late winner with a two-touch, left-footed control and shot which show that he is a natural born goalscorer – he had so little time to sort his feet out and put the ball away that he was surely acting purely on his striking instincts.
He had been scoring for fun over the Summer during the World Cup and our pre-season but this was his first goal since the Community Shield and hopefully will be the first of many more.
One thing that did annoy me about the TV commentary last night is how our win was refered to as a “smash & grab raid” as though we had been under the cosh for 90 minutes but somehow had managed to sneak a goal to win it. We rode our luck on a couple of occasions but you can’t expect to go to the ground of any half decent side in Europe and dominate proceedings. Overall, we contained Valencia pretty well but in the end, our extra quality made the difference.
Valencia’s defense had also been made to work pretty hard during the game and bringing on the youthful Macheda and the pacey Hernandez towards the end of the match was something of a masterstroke by Fergie – it was the last thing the tiring Valencia defense would have needed.
A 1-1 draw might have been a fair result but I felt we showed our vast European experience here – we kept them out and then applied the killer blow almost at the end of the game when there was little time for them to get back into the game. It was almost the perfect away performance by a below-strength team against an in-form team.
We now have two games against Bursaspor and I can see no reason why we shouldn’t be looking to take maximum points from those two games. Should we succeed in doing this then we will find ourselves on ten points with two games still to play and our place in the next stage of the competition virtually assured.
For now though, we’re back on track.