Manchester United stumbled to a 1-0 home victory over Turkish side Galatasary AS to kick off their 12/13 Champions League campaign.
Sir Alex had promised a strong side in an effort to avoid repeating last years group stage exit, however with shades of the FC Basel game at home last year, United nearly paid the price for their complacency. Ferguson restored David De Gea to the starting line up, perhaps mindful of the extra protection goalkeepers are usually afforded by European refs, and he responded with several crucial saves to ensure the clean sheet. A back four of Evra, Evans, Vidic and Rafael accompanied a midfield of Nani, Scholes, Carrick and Valencia with Kagawa playing off Robin van Persie up front in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Ferguson’s side started brightly, with Kagawa providing much of the impetus for United’s attacks playing neat triangles with both wingers and van Persie in front of him. Nani gave everyones favourite comedy defender Emmanuel Eboue the run-around and Valencia was able to supply 3 or 4 excellent quality crosses into the danger area.
United’s pressure paid off after 7 minutes when an unusually advanced Carrick played one-twos with van Persie, and then Kagawa before rounding Muslera in Galatasaray’s nets (who then clearly fouled him) to slide the ball home into an empty net. The atmosphere in the ground at this point was one of optimism that we might see United dominate in Europe the way we’d seen them dominate the second half against Wigan, however, this was to be the highlight of the night in front of goal for the 3 time Champions of Europe. (Save for this man here, who was too busy videoing the whole game on his iPad, or giving his iPad to other people to video him watching the game.. – what have we become?)
Galatasaray grew in stature for the rest of the first half, and nearly equalised when a sloppy pass from Scholes led to a pacy break by the Turks, only for Carrick to track back and make a perfectly timed slide tackle to take the ball away. In truth, only Carrick, Kagawa and De Gea can emerge from tonight with any kind of credit. Carrick was imperious in midfield, recycling possession faultlessly and generally marshalling the midfield. On the other side of the coin, Nani was woeful, losing posession time after time, and drifting towards the ball far too often, leading to a lopsided formation, usually resulting in no left wing presence at all, not to mention his god-awful “I’m not Ronaldo, but i can stop start a run up during a penalty like he does..” penalty miss early in the second half. Behind where Nani should have been, Evra was not much better. He looked tired and sloppy from the get-go and, in combination with Büttner’s excellent performance against Wigan, has played himself out of a place against Liverpool on Sunday in my eyes. Even van Persie looked out of sorts tonight, his usually exquisit touch letting him down at least twice towards the end of the game before he was subbed for Chicha.
Penalty miss aside, the second half was no better for United, and clearly Ferguson felt the same way, subbing both strikers for Welbeck and Chicharito in an effort to widen the one goal lead. Also making his return to first team action after several 90 minute run outs with the reserves was Darren Fletcher who came on for Scholes in the 79th minute to rapturous applause from the Old Trafford faithful.
Fletcher looked noticeably off the pace (understandable) but nevertheless it was great to see him back on the field, and further first team football can only lead to an improvement in his match fitness.
Towards the end of the game, when i increasingly believed we would be made to pay for our lack of creativity up front, De Gea was called upon to make a fantastic double save, first from a powerful strike by Burak Yilmaz, and then a follow up effort from Emre Colak, both of which highlighted once again, his incredible shot stopping ability. For all Lindegaard’s posturing about there being no clear no 1 choice in net for United, De Gea’s superior reactions and VASTLY superior distribution make him the obvious choice to me.
United held on for the victory, and a second clean sheet in succession, however the short-lived optimism that perhaps we wouldn’t settle for tense low scoring affairs this year is already dissipating. While 3 points remains the number one objective, very few United players can be happy with their contribution tonight.