With qualification secured, Manchester United have been afforded the luxury of preserving players and rotating for the final two Champion’s League group games, allowing Sir Alex Ferguson a greater focus on the Premier League. On the back of a defeat to Norwich at the weekend, Sir Alex took a different side on the trip to Turkey, in the hope of providing some inexperienced names with some game time in that most daunting of sporting arenas in Istanbul.
With that in mind, Sir Alex went with Lindegaard in goal, with Phil Jones returning from injury, and Michael Carrick with him in central defence. Rafael Da Silva took place on the right, and Buttner, the left. In midfield, United opted for a narrower set up, using Anderson, Fletcher, Nick Powell, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck. Finally, Hernandez was the lone man up front.
The first half was a goalless one, in which both sides went through periods of attack in an open game. The hosts arguably had the better half in terms of possession, spending more time on the ball and looking more threatening as they got forward. United’s unfamiliar side though, had their moments and came close to breaking the deadlock towards the end of the first half as Nick Powell rose to head a corner and his effort came crashing off the crossbar. Despite the potentially daunting atmosphere, the visitors acquitted themselves well, linking up well and showing potential going forward, although sometimes the final product was not quite there, or the ball was given away cheaply. They fought for every ball as they looked to disrupt the Turkish side.
The second half kicked off with Galatasaray beginning the brighter of the sides. Riera forced Lindegaard into a save early on, and Melo forced the Dane into a world class save from a strong header merely minutes later. The resulting corner was played in, meeting Yilmaz as he headed home into the top corner to give the hosts a 1-0 lead. They then looked to get a quick second, pressing soon after scoring. United found themselves under pressure but were able to produce chances via quick breaks. Arguably the best of these occurred when Welbeck was in open space on the ball on the right with a defender in the path towards Hernandez. The striker played a ball across and Hernandez took an extra touch as the defenders caught up and were able to get in the way of a clear shot. Powell and Anderson were replaced by Young and Macheda as Sir Alex looked to add different options up front, but as the game wore on, United appeared to struggle to create any meaningful chances. Joshua King was introduced late on but to no avail, as Galatasaray saw out the game 1-0 in a good night for them, and a useful experience for Sir Alex’s squad.
With that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Positive in defeat
Like the weekend, United came away from this trip with a 1-0 defeat, although in this case there is no bearing on their qualification to the next round. In stark contrast to the weekend loss, there were plenty of positives to take from this game. Galatasaray was always going to provide a stern test for a relatively inexperienced side and the atmosphere of their stadium will have provided a challenging experience for them. It could be argued that this was one of the more impressive performances of the Champion’s League, with the players displaying a good attitude about their play, linking well and fighting for every ball. It could be said that there was a lack of creativity in the final third, that finishing touch just lacking, although Powell came extremely close towards the end of the first half.
There were a few notable performances throughout, and their efforts on the evening should be commended. Was it a brilliant performance? No, and one did not expect it to be given the situation and the side put out. That said, there were encouraging aspects to the game that bode well for some of the fringe players in the squad. In truth, the home side were probably the deserved winners. One felt they were in control for larger periods of the game and looked more dangerous as they got forward, but it was not one way traffic as they had to deal with the threat of the counter attack as well as United’s own periods of possession. However, the opportunity to use some of the youngsters was not to be missed. The likes of Powell and King have no experience at this level, and using them in a game of no consequence was worth doing despite the loss. It allowed for some of the senior members of the squad to be rested and some of the fringe players to be given a run and a chance to impress.
2) Phil Jones returned from injury
Fans will have been pleased to see Phil Jones return from injury to further add to the defensive options available to Sir Alex. He impressed on his return as well, showing strength and worked well with Michael Carrick in forming a partnership at the back. It could be argued that the young defender ended last season worse off than the way in which he began, looking more vulnerable and perhaps suffering from being used in too many different positions. Hopefully having returned, fans will see him settle into the squad and provide a useful option as the season progresses.
3) Nick Powell – flashes of quality
Much has been made of the potential Nick Powell possesses, to the point where he has been touted as a “future Paul Scholes”. While it remains to be seen exactly how the midfielder develops, fans have been treated to few appearances of the youngster. On this occasion, he impressed at times. He showed flashes of quality, displayed a good tenacity to win the ball when it was lost and linked up well with the others. He came closest to scoring with a strong header in the first half, and although he faded during the second half, eventually being replaced, one could see there could be a top class player in him with time.
4) Particular vulnerability from set pieces
There have been questions asked of United’s defence since the start of the season. On this occasion, they looked more assured for much of the game, although there were moments they looked vulnerable to Galatasaray’s attacks. However, one area they looked particularly vulnerable was from set pieces. There appeared to be a lack of command when it came to dealing with crosses coming in and play across the box. The home side were more dominant in the air as they pressed. Lindegaard, particularly in the first half, appeared a little indecisive and had a couple of hesitant moments. Perhaps his consistency has been affected by the rotation with De Gea, but it could be argued the Dane looked unsettled at the back in the first half. He improved as the game went on and produced some good saves before the goal, though.
Buttner’s willingness to get forward was to be appreciated, but one worries about how exposed he can be if the ball is given away and he has to track back. Defensively it is clear he will need some work before he is to take Evra’s place as a regular starter, assuming he ever does so.
5) Midfield possibilities
With concerns for Darren Fletcher’s health and his long term future in the game, it has been no surprise to see him used sparingly so far this season. So far, he has mainly been given game time in the Champion’s League, as a different option to break up play and take control in midfield. If he could, there could be a place for him in the League when the occasion calls for it, but it would be safe to say the management are being cautious over how often he is selected.
One does hope to see Powell given more minutes in the League as well. One should not be so hasty as to call him a game changer or someone who should be relied upon heavily so early into his United career, but providing him with more Premier League experience could be worthwhile sooner rather than later. Finally, one hopes that Anderson gets a start in the League this weekend. Doubts remain over his fitness for an entire 90 minutes, but in recent games he has shown more consistency, and he was one of the brighter players on the night. His energy was a welcome addition to the midfield and he was involved in much of the forward play in United’s efforts.
One could ask whether the midfield set up was particularly effective and it would be fair to say that at times it did. Despite the lack of a killer touch when it mattered and a lack of width, a narrower system was worth trying. Although perhaps not as dominant in midfield as one would have liked it was worth seeing how the side would fare if the wingers were left out.