Manchester United recorded a 1-0 win over Turkish champions Galatasaray, courtesy of an early goal from Michael Carrick, making Sir Alex Ferguson the first manager to rack up 100 Champions League wins.
It was anything but easy for United, who were far from impressive, but they will take solace from the fact that they managed to weather the storm and see off their opponents to take all three points. Otherwise, the same concerns remain for United in European competition, who will worry that a lack of midfield protection for their defence could prove their undoing on the continent once more.
United survived a very big penalty shout in the opening minute of play. A poor turnover from Paul Scholes allowed Galatasaray to pour forward. Patrice Evra ended up with the ball and played a poor pass to Vidic, which Umut nicked in to retrieve but was seemingly fouled as Vidic tried to clear the ball. It almost seemed to catch everyone unawares, but it would prove to be the first of many decent penalty shouts which would be denied by the referee, Wolfgank Stark.
United improved quickly though, and by the 5th minute they were beginning to carve up the Galatasaray defence. Nani was denied a good chance after some fantastic interplay between himself and Shinji Kagawa, which would become a recurring theme throughout the game. The Portuguese winger tried to dink a finish over the top of the Uruguayan keeper, Fernando Muslera, but he couldn’t beat the keeper.
The opening, and only, goal of the game came barely a minute later, following some lovely build up play form the Red Devils. Carrick played a lovely one-two with Kagawa, who held the ball and released at the perfect moment once again. Carrick skipped around Muslera, and applied the finish, despite being tripped by the goalkeeper, who was perhaps lucky to avoid sanction for his attempts to stop Carrick as the last man.
The pace of the opening exchanges didn’t let up after the goal however, and Nordin Amrabat went incredibly close to levelling the scores in the 10th minute, when another Paul Scholes turnover allowed Galatasaray to get forward. The winger hit a curled effort which had David De Gea well beaten, but it failed to sneak under the crossbar.
Galatasaray suffered another blow when in-form forward Umut was forced off with injury in the 15th minute, with Johan Elmander, the former Bolton forward, coming on to replace him. Melo had an opportunity from a corner soon after, but he couldn’t direct his header goalwards.
The match settled into something of a midfield arm wrestle from here on in, with no team able to gain any real advantage. There were brief passages of sumptuous football, with Kagawa and Nani usually at the heart of it. A series of one touch passes between the dynamic duo put Kagawa through into the box but the crowded penalty area made it hard for him to get a shot away, and he was eventually robbed of possession by a desperate, but fair, tackle from behind.
Nani enjoyed a free role in the first half, seemingly given license to float around the pitch, but it left Evra rather exposed, and would evenutally cost him a booking, as he put in a late tackle on Amrabat as the winger put in a cross, just outside the box. The free kick that followed was a well rehearsed set piece routine, with the ball being laid off to an unmarked Hamit Altintop, who smashed a fierce drive at goal, clipping the outside of the post.
After the half time break, it took only a minute for Nani and Kagawa to combine once more with the two completely bewildering a couple of defenders to slip the Japanese international into the box one more. Again though, Galatasaray did exceptionally well to get bodies behind the ball, and block the shot for the corner.
Altintop went close again the 48th minute, but United were handed a fantastic chance to put the three points beyond doubt in the 51st minute when Rafael Da Silva’s surging run into the box from right back drew a poor challenge and resulted in a penalty for the home side. Nani stepped up to take the kick, despite Robin Van Persie being on the field, but he failed to convert the spot kick with a poor effort punctuated by a stuttering run up.
United almost paid for the mistake minutes later, when Altintop popped up again on the right wing for the Turks, and put in a dangerous cross. Inan managed to get his head on it, flicking it on towards the near post, but once more the woodwork was clipped as the ball sailed out.
Nemanja Vidic almost scored at the other end shortly after, getting on the end of a good corner from Nani, but his goalbound header was deflected clear by Muslera. Funnily the referee gave a goalkick, despite Muslera’s save.
Despite his miss from the spot, Nani continued to thrive on the left, where it seemed he had been told to stay at half time. With the winger roaming less and less, United looked to have much better shape in the second half, and the fleet-footed Portuguese international became a common avenue to goal.
He played Evra through in the 70th minute, after more quality one touch play with Kagawa, but the Frenchman’s cross-goal effort was deflected behind for a corner.
Van Persie, who had a very quiet night, played the corner short to Nani in the box, and despite a rather obvious foul was denied a penalty by the referee. Despite his protestations, Galatasaray broke forward for their best chance of the match, drawing a fantastic double save from De Gea, who denied substitute Emre Colak’s second effort with a stunning diving save.
United broke forward soon after though, and it was Nani once more who was almost the provider, playing a square ball to Robin Van Persie, who let himself down with a couple of poor touches, allowing Galatasaray to recover and stop the Dutchman from shooting.
Darren Fletcher made his entrance into the game, and United’s season, shortly after, coming off the bench to replace a tiring Paul Scholes, his name greeted with plenty of applause from the fans at Old Trafford who saluted the midfielder return after almost 10 months out of the game with illness.
Van Persie capped off a frustrating night with a yellow card and substitution in the 80th minute, when he was replaced by Javier Hernandez, with the other new boy, Shinji Kagawa, the next to be withdrawn at the 84 minute mark, to make way for Danny Welbeck.
Hernandez spurned a couple of good chances in his time on the pitch, with Nani creating almost all of them. Nani played Hernandez through into the box twice in the space of five minutes or so, but Hernandez failed to hit the target on the first attempt, drawing a decent save with his second.
In the second minute of stoppage time, Hernandez spurned another chance when Danny Welbeck flicked on Antonio Valencia’s cross, but Hernandez couldn’t pull off the difficult finish on the volley from a tight angle.
The referee blew for time shortly after, signalling the end of the game and a successful, results wise at least, start to the UEFA Champions League for Manchester United. Galatasaray will take plenty of heart from a performance that deserved more, however, and will be keen to get their revenge on United when the two meet in Turkey in November.
United now return their focus to the domestic scene, with a highly anticipated battle with Liverpool scheduled for Sunday.
United: De Gea 6.5, Rafael 7, Evans 6.5, Vidic 7, Evra 6.5, Valencia 6, Scholes 6.5, Carrick 7, Nani 7.5*, Kagawa 7, Van Persie 4.5
Man of the Match:
No matter what agenda certain sections of the support might hold against Nani, and the lengths to which they will go to make the worst of his performances, Nani was undoubtedly the brightest light in this United side.
He missed his opportunity from the spot kick, but he clearly created the most clear cut chances for goals out of everyone on the pitch.
It wasn’t a world-beating performance by any stretch, but it was certainly the best one on offer by any United player on the day.