If ever a team has suffered from bipolar disfunction, David Moyes’ Manchester United are that team. An hymn to ineptitude, slackness and disorganisation on Saturday, an almost perfectly oiled unit tonight, the Reds return from a complicated trip to Eastern Ukraine with a very valuable point.
Granted, it could have been even better had United not conceded 15 minutes from time, but how romantic that a man whose name rhymes with that of a disgraced boxer was the one to deliver a sucker punch to Moyes’ men?
Truth be told, United probably did not deserve to win, for Shakthar were by far the more industrious side of the two, but David Moyes must have been really pleased to see his players delivering a solid performance when it mattered the most, and on a difficult ground like Donetsk’s too. Hell, the performance was so exquisitely professional for large spells of the game that even Fergie, who grew to love a pragmatic performance away from home in Europe over the last six or seven years of his regime, would have been proud of it.
Shakthar’s manager Mircea Lucescu, a feisty 68-year-old man rightly considered the Ukrainian’s side very own Fergie, had claimed that David Moyes’ penchant for rotating his squad had hampered United’s chances so far this season, but any sort of turnover that results in Anderson not even travelling with the squad and Ashley Young remaining on the bench for 90 minutes can only be welcomed.
As it turned out, Moyes’ selection was pretty much spot on, with the United manager making nine changes from Saturday’s horror show against West Bromwich. A brand new back four was protected by a new-look, five-man midfield, with Michael Carrick supported by Marouane Fellaini and Tom Cleverley, with Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck more touchline-hugging midfielders than wingers in support of Robin Van Persie.
United were lucky not to give away a penalty 16 minutes into the game as Cleverley brought down Alex Teixeira after a poor clearance following a corner, but the Reds soon gave the 700-strong travelling contingent something to shout about as Marouane Fellaini held off his marker before squaring the ball for Danny Welbeck, who made no mistake and toe-punted it home with virtually his first touch of the game.
That was United’s first and last attempt on goal as Moyes’ “if you can’t outplay them, outnumber them” strategy worked a treat in midfield where, almost for the first time since Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union, United weren’t torn apart with tragic regularity, but rather held their own against an excellent side.
The absence of Wayne Rooney, who Moyes, rather too honestly, admitted would have been on the bench – tip for the future David, honesty does not always pay in football – allowed the United manager to field three proper midfielders for the first time in his Manchester United career, and while Fellaini still looks a bit rusty – you’d think he’s only played a handful of games for the club – this formation’s positives outweighed the negatives.
The Belgian, who, despite his rather peculiar hairdo, was mistakenly booked for a foul committed by Antonio Valencia was replaced by Ryan Giggs with two thirds of the match gone, as Giggsy became the first player to play 145 games in the Champions League, edging one game ahead of Real Madrid legend Raul.
United saw their lead vanish with 15 minutes left to play, as a poor clearance from Nemanja Vidic allowed Taison to side-foot an absolute rocket past David De Gea, who ten minutes later produced an outstanding save as Taison’s cross was dangerously deflected by Chris Smalling.
Despite the best efforts of Shakthar’s bare-chested men brigade – no prawn eaters at these latitudes, partly because, one suspects, caviar might be the snack of choice and partly because jumping up and down on a terrace for 90 minutes might be the only remedy against freezing to death – United held on for a valuable point, which puts them join-top alongside Shakthar.
Granted, some will bemoan United’s prudent attitude, but those who believe it’s still possible to play away from home in the Champions League with full-backs marauding down the flanks are living in a bygone era. Either that, or they support Bayern Munich.
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Tags: Match Reports