Wednesday night saw the return of Champion’s League football to Old Trafford. After their struggles and subsequent failures in Europe as a whole last season, Sir Alex Ferguson will have been keen to avoid any repeat mistakes this year, particularly in a group where progression holds a strong possibility if his players perform.
With the continuing questions over who exactly is the number one choice to start in goal, Sir Alex was quoted as saying that he would happily rotate until it became clear who would take their place as first choice. With that, it was David De Gea’s chance to shine, recalled after being dropped following the 3-2 victory against Fulham. In front of him sat Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans with Patrice Evra, recalled to the side, on the left and Rafael Da Silva on the right. In midfield, Sir Alex opted for Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes, with Nani on the left wing, and Valencia on the right. Shinji Kagawa sat just in front of the midfield with Robin Van Persie the lone man ahead of him.
United certainly got off to a perfect start, getting the early breakthrough with Michael Carrick on 7 minutes. Good play involving Van Persie, and more significantly, Kagawa, played in Carrick, who got the ball around the goalkeeper and was able to steer it in, despite being tripped on the way. A penalty could have been given had Carrick not continued, and it soon followed that both sides had reason to complain with certain refereeing decisions. Galatasaray had a chance to equalise almost immediately, as Amrabat clipped the bar on the break. United had control of the game though, and continued to pursue a way forward, using the wings for avenues of attack, Valencia finding little success in his crossing. In fact, United could have had more within the first half had they been more incisive in their play, although the visitors too, also had their opportunities, coming closest from a free kick after Evra was booked for a foul. However, despite the open nature of proceedings, the scoreline remained 1-0 going into the break, with fans hoping their side would produce a more convincing display in the second half and put the game to rest.
The second half got off to a bright start, with Kagawa and Nani linking up early on, and within minutes, United had a chance to double the lead, albeit rather fortuitously as Rafael was felled as he powered into the box. However, United’s penalty woes continued to haunt them, as Nani stepped up and seemed to freeze and meekly put his kick to the left and making for an easy save for the opposing ‘keeper. Three penalties awarded, three penalties missed. A few minutes later, and visitors could have made United pay for their sloppiness as a header at the near post glanced just wide of the far post. A narrow lead held, just.
United had more opportunities to put the game to bed, with Evra being played through by Kagawa with 20 minutes left, Van Persie losing his touch not long after and failing to deliver and substitute Hernandez – having replaced Van Persie – failed to make the most of his chance at goal. The fans got an up-lifting sight with 11 minutes left, as Darren Fletcher replaced Paul Scholes after 10 months away from the game, suffering from inflammatory bowel disease. The action continued late into the game, with the visitors having a late penalty appeal turned down and Hernandez putting an attempt at a volley well over the bar. And so it was, United saw out the game 1-0, a lead they could have built on, and a scoreline in which Galatasaray could have take a result. Some positives and some food for thought.
With that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Darren Fletcher – Welcome back
Darren Fletcher’s battle with a chronic bowel condition has been well documented, to such an extent where many, including myself, believed we may have seen the last of the midfielder on the pitch. It would appear though, that his treatment has helped his problems settle down somewhat, to the extent that he can train and participate. It remains to be seen how regularly he will be seen this season, but the fact that he is even considered and option can only be a bonus that Sir Alex Ferguson will only be too keen to have. The Scot’s qualities have been held in high regard in the last couple of seasons, before his illness became known, and at times have been missed for the way he could break up play and added strength in the middle of the park.
2) Penalty crisis?
After Hernandez and Van Persie’s efforts from the spot kick so far this season, it was the turn of Nani to turn around the side’s fortunes. Normally, the Portuguese winger is dependable for the spot, often powering and place his shots well. However, on this occasion the penalty blues seemed to strike him as well, with his tame effort being saved. Fans will be hoping that this is simply a case of “bad things coming in threes” and that from here penalties will be taken with more venom than they have seen so far. In truth, one might argue whether it should have been awarded in the first place, but such was the irregularity of the refereeing decisions, that it could be said one should have been given later in the game. In fact, Galatasaray had reason to feel aggrieved with the decisions as well, with Vidic lucky to escape after taking out a player after Evra’s poor lay off.
3) Is the goalkeeping situation healthy for the back line?
Given the desire for defensive solidarity, one might assume that a regular number one choice between the posts may be of use. This is likely especially true when the back four has had little in the way of consistency in the opening weeks of the campaign, with Evans only just coming back as the defenders start to make recoveries. Of course there have been cases for Lindegaard and De Gea to take their place in goal, and both providing evidence to have less confidence in them. De Gea certainly has superb shot stopping ability but his command still sells him short. Lindegaard too, has had a couple of shaky moments.
Be in no doubt, that both have their qualities but the question remains, should Sir Alex be sticking to the one or should both continue to be given equal opportunities to prove their worth?
It is a situation that has to be handled correctly. Perhaps Sir Alex sees it as keeping both on their toes and to make sure nothing is taken for granted. It is likely not as simple as playing one more often and using the other less often, as both are young and talented and want to stake a claim to be top dog. If such a strategy were to be used, De Gea could be number one, with Lindegaard being used in cup competition, with the young Spaniard continuing to adapt to the English game, even if occasionally, conceding goals from set pieces became more of a risk. The other way one may look at it is to use Lindegaard as first choice for the near future, until De Gea is ready for the pressures of the Premier League and the physicality. It is certainly an interesting situation, and one that fans hope does not have too much detriment to the side, given United’s recent history and troubles with goalkeepers, with the exception of Van Der Sar and Schmeichel.
4) Wasteful up front, Nani impressive
One thing that must be said of United was that they were not short of chances going forward. The issue was putting them away. It appeared much like the frustrating side that took to the Champion’s League last season, where United were sloppy, particularly at home and were made to pay the consequences with group stage elimination. On this occasion, it was not costly and they came away with the spoils, which ultimately is what matters, but Sir Alex will want to avoid the same mistakes that proved so decisive last time. There were some positive to take. There was some good link up play in creating chances. Nani in particular seemed active and appeared to be involved on plenty of occasions, despite his missed penalty. Valencia was not to his usual standards, with some poor crosses coming in and frustration setting in later on. Van Persie also had a poor game. Galatasaray could have made the evening far worse than it turned out, United will feel fortunate for that to have been avoided.
5) A winning start, a chance to push on
With one eye on Sunday’s clash with Liverpool, one might look at the evening’s performance and find reason to be concerned. That said, Premier League action, particularly against their Merseyside rivals is always a different prospect entirely and should make for interesting, and tense, viewing in itself. To come away with victory is a good start in European competition, but fans will be all too aware that performances will have to pick up if any meaningful impact is to be had this season. Given the standard of the opposition, it is fair to say there will be no easy games and getting through the group stages is only part of the challenge. However, it would be fair to say the season is still young, and there is likely more to come from this team. For now, the three points are happily accepted, and United move on to the next one.
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