Manchester United are top of group C in the Champions League, after goals from Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney secured a 2-0 win at Old Trafford.
It was a largely uninspiring performance by Fergie’s men and, with the greatest respect for Galati, against a slightly better organized United could have paid the price for their mistakes.
These days it’s basically impossible to guess Sir Alex’s starting XI, and the United’s manager obviously likes to keep people guessing, for if the back 5 – De Gea in goal, Jones, Evans, Ferdinand and Fabio – weren’t exactly a novelty, and the same could be said for Owen and Berbatov up front, the midfield threw some surprises. Valencia and Nani were chosen on the wings, with Anderson – the Brazilian seems to have lost his form, much in a way that United fans are becoming increasingly accustomed to expect – in midfield. The fourth midfielder? Wayne Rooney. Yes, that Wayne Rooney. United’s problems in the engine room have been well documented over the last few seasons, but what does this mean for Carrick and Fletcher? Was Ferguson really only happy to give them a breather or does he really trust his best striker in the middle of the park more than he trusts two of his midfielders? For United fans the answer can be only one: Fergie knows best.
A fortnight ago United started very slowly against the Romanian champions and Fabio did his best to ensure a different start this time around, by launching into a wonderful run with barely three minutes gone. United were ahead five minutes later: Rooney played a wonderful cross-field pass to Berbatov (50th Champions League appearance for the Bulgarian tonight) who fed the overlapping Jones whose cross was met by Valencia at the back post after Owen had just missed the ball. The former Newcastle player lasted on the pitch only other two minutes before succumbing to the latest muscular problem and being replaced by Hernandez.
United failed to keep up the tempo and actually slowed the game down, looking in control but, somehow, vulnerable. Singling players out is a tedious and pointless exercise but you have to wonder whether, in years gone by and with other players making the calls in midfield, United would have put this sort of teams to the sword instead of simply trotting along the pitch. Rooney was excellent deployed in a deeper role, but Anderson and Nani were sloppy and slow.
Rooney’s distribution and Jones’enormous qualities going forward were definitely the brightest notes of United’s first half, with Galati testing De Gea after 41’, with Neagu firing at the Spanish goalkeeper.
Berbatov and Anderson both had decent chances at the start of the second half, with the Bulgarian blasting a shot over the bar while Anderson saw his shot cleared off the line after he had beaten the keeper following a clever one-two with Berbatov.
United’s best move in the second half came after 62 minutes, when Jones exchanged passes with Berbatov before delivering a brilliant ball in the box, only for Hernandez to head over. At last the fans had something to get excited about on an otherwise rather dull night. Nights like this in a way define Manchester United: playing at home against a far from glamorous opposition – again no disrespect intended to the hard-working Romanian side – and yet they sold more than 74.000 tickets, while the “Noisy neighbours” struggled to fill their ground for their first ever home tie in the competition.
Berbatov wasted another good chance on 74th minute when, after intercepting a sloppy backpass, he could only hit the side of the goal from a good position.
With Galati coming forward seeking a famous equalizer, Rooney put the game beyond them when,with only three minutes left, his long-range effort took a big deflection off Sarghi before ending in the back of the net. Thanks to UEFA’s dubious laws on deflections the goal was attributed to Rooney, which means he’s only one goal short of overtaking Ryan Giggs as all time British top-scorer in the Champions League.
A far from vintage performance from United but one that, combined with Benfica’s draw at home against Basel, is good enough to put Ferguson’s men in pole position for winning group C and qualifying for the knockout stages.