The Champions League is like a hill I used to encounter when regularly riding my Mongoose BMX. It was a matte white with black breaks and pedals.
After routinely conquering this quite mountainous hill, likely to be a category one in Tour de France parlance, day after day suddenly I couldn’t. It was unexpected, shocking and hard to explain. Why couldn’t I do it? All of a sudden I was so tired and unprepared to defeat the incline. Was it over confidence? Did I not respect the challenge that the hill posed? Was I too comfortable in my ability to ride up with no intensity and reach the top? When tackling it again I’d be reminded in the closing stages of my previous failure, thinking more about that than I was the task at hand. I’d seize up and just fall over the line. That rather longwinded analogy is how I viewed our first up encounter with Turkish side Galatasaray.
Secondly, before we begin the player ratings I’d like to discuss our rather inglorious form from the penalty spot in the early weeks of this here season we’ve embarked on. Admittedly I’ve taken very few penalties at the elite level; none in fact have been in the Premier or Champions Leagues. I was my indoor team’s designated penalty taker for a while, scoring more often than not. My method was to blast a right footer to my left; an action that achieved maximum torque and took the ball as far from the keeper as possible. Although two of my final three were missed (hitting the bar, thus wavering my teammates opinion of my up to that point sterling penalty taking, relieving me of the responsibility altogether), I still endorse that method and would suggest it be implemented in all levels of the Manchester United set up, from senior to reserve to youth level.
Incidentally, my first thought for the night was ‘wow, I love our Champions League name and number typeface’.
David De Gea – 6.5/10
Largely untroubled in our goal during the first period and for most of the second, the young Spaniard endured a few close calls with the frame of his goal rattled by a rather sublime chip from Amrabat and a low drive from the boot of Altintop.
De Gea completed his first save of the match on 43 minutes. It was a rasp of a drive that dipped menacing towards the United #1, who had to have his wits about him to collect skilfully below his knees (read: scuffed shot trickled into the box and rolled tamely into his hands).
His judgement was on show, too, with a shot from distance watched all the way as it went past his far post, but it was his awareness and composure 72 minutes that was the difference between three points and just the one. Great positioning denied a straight forward attempt, with the parry falling at the feet of a Galatasaray player, by that time De Gea had scampered across his goal and set himself for the follow up, lunging instinctively to deflect a shot destined for the top left of his goal. In short: good anticipation to sense the danger initially and then get set up for the follow up.
Rafael – 6/10
Was caught out of position a few times, with Valencia often on hand to provide cover should the Brazilian stray too far from his post, one case in particular saw the winger sense the Galatasaray full back inching forward as Rafael moved in field to mark his direct opponent.
Contrast this with our left hand side, which was a bit dysfunctional in the first half. Nani and Evra could have learned a thing or two from our right hand side, which they did in the second period. Either way, they weren’t interested in conducting their attacking business down our right, which was a win for our boys stationed out there.
He strode forward confidently either side of the half, winning the penalty after 52 minutes thanks to a surging run into the box. Showed there was more to his game than dash and flair late in the piece, standing up well to deny successive attempts to get beyond him and cause some problems. Kept his flank well under control for most of the night.
Jonny Evans – 6/10
A solid outing for Evans. Relieving Ferdinand in the heart of our defence he became Vidic’s third central defensive partner in five outings. In the early going we made it difficult, allowing the Turkish champions far too much space in midfield, which they used to stride towards a back tracking and retreating big guys.
Once the game tightened up a little bit and we offered them more support they looked more steady and relaxed. They, like us, were more interested in attacking from out wide as the game wore on, with Vidic and Evans having their central attackers well in hand. Lucky to get away with a late challenge that almost scythed muscle from his opponent’s ankle, but in real time it looked like a good tackle.
It was not.
Nemanja Vidic – 6/10
Got better after raking his studs down someone’s Achilles in just the first minute. ‘Clumsy’ just doesn’t do the awkwardness of his attempt to diffuse the danger any justice.
He looked more controlled and confident in the air, meeting a handful of headers, both attacking and defensive in full stride. Generally was very switched on, alive to the threat of Fletcher’s late concession of possession in midfield and a ball that he ushered harmlessly into touch for a goal kick.
He’s getting a bit better.
Patrice Evra – 4.5/10
I’ll preface this by saying “poor Patrice”.
The little guy was isolated by two attackers for most of the first half, being run at so often I’m sure in his own mind he thought of himself fighting off dozens of invaders of his side of the pitch, keeping them at bay with well-timed tackles, shoulder barges and then disappearing up the wing with the ball, the baying throng chasing him as he showed a clean pair of heels.
Reality is he was being double teamed and torn apart.
Nani needed to work harder to emulate the efforts of Valencia on the right, something he did in the moments before half time and the rest of the match. Had some moments of inspiration, like his link up with Nani that saw him run unchecked into the box, only to watch his shot trickle just wide after a slight deflection.
Contrast that with the yellow he received for a rash tackle after he was beaten for pace and skill just outside the box. He either didn’t expect the run behind or was ill-equipped to combat it. Being beaten two-on-one is one thing, but he was beaten too often when in a straight fight.
One thing you can say about Patrice is he doesn’t get too down about things. He certainly kept battling away.
Antonio Valencia – 7/10
It was a game of what ifs for Antonio.
Jeez he was good until the final ball. His linking with our fleet of foot brigade comprised of Kagawa and Nani in the early stages was superb. He found so much ball and space that I’m not sure if it was simply good play on his behalf or a lack of respect from the opposition. He mishit a few crosses, dropping a few too many at the back post when there was no realistic option to attack, but that could be more down to strategy than anything else. Our industry out wide was somewhat wasted by the lack of height in the box.
It’s all good and well whipping in cross after cross, but even if they’re on target who was the option? RVP was closely marked; whilst runs that crash the box from guys that are 5’ 9” aren’t the stuff that’ll disturb too many central defenders.
As I touched on earlier his work to control the right hand side was top notch, covering Rafael and ensuring the Turks experienced no joy out wide. Showed the sort of run and carry we love (he can be a real brute at times) and admire him for, riding tackles showing directness when in possession.
They became mindful of him as the game continued and he wasn’t as prominent in the closing stages as he was the opening. Had a penalty shout late on after he stepped outside and beyond two defenders, his heel clipped as he steadied to square the ball.
Paul Scholes – 4/10
Scholes ceded possession in his first real involvement on about 10 minutes, an error that created a counter and was the first sign of a lack of intensity that became more worrying in the dying embers when our lead was threatened. Looked threatening on the quarter hour as he got into a bit of a rhythm, linking several bits of play between defence and midfield, but followed that with a misplaced pass that offered them another counter and a rare instance of being caught in possession (one of the few times in 20-odd years, we’ll let in slide).
Simply he sat a bit too deep, allowing the raids to be conducted with pace ahead of him, but he couldn’t get advanced enough to effect the contest as we’ve seen him do so far this season. With both Carrick and Scholesy withdrawn to the base of midfield we lacked bite and were bullied a little bit too much.
Was replaced by Fletcher after a disappointing 80-odd minutes.
Michael Carrick – 7/10
He drifted out of the game late, but was superb in the early going. Highlight of course when he combined with Kagawa to create an opportunity and then take his goal.
The poise he showed in casually rounding the keeper and keeping his cool to slide home was lovely. It was unusual to see the now unretired international so advanced, probing at the edge of and deep into the box, but he certainly looked the part. Also got back and stuck in a few times, executing a pair of last ditch, saving tackles to deny shots that could’ve been messy; one of which a ballsy effort on the edge of the box that might’ve been regrettable if a few inches closer to goal.
Showed the sort of Matrix like Zen moves that saw Wigan at sixes and sevens last weekend when he tread the light fantastic just after the half hour mark. He gained possession under imminent pressure, pivoting sharply to evade one tackle, then the next and set off into space, eventually releasing Nani down the left. Sometimes, on the rarest occasions, he engages 4th, even 5th gear (see his goal v QPR last season). It’s wonderful to watch.
Like Scholes he was blanketed a bit in the physical stakes, but his creative work and endeavour to go both ways was instrumental. Showed some calm when on the ball and attempted to wrest control of the game when it looked to be slipping.
Nani – 8/10
Yep, the penalty was bad. Stopped, stuttered and struck at a good height. He had a stop start first half, funnily enough, with his first involvement a rather wasteful double failure to find RVP, who had ducked off the back of a counter attack in acres of space.
Combined beautifully too many times to mention in attacking positions, showing great strength when on the ball to ride many challenges and keep his feet. Exhibited a willingness to run and carry, working well with Kagawa in that regard to send the frighteners through Galatasaray. I’ve been frustrated with his propensity to slow down once he takes possession lately, but that wasn’t an issue last night.
His free roaming role left us (and Patrice. Poor, poor Patrice) exposed at the back, but he tightened up in the second half and was not only our best player on offence, but one of the best of defence, too. Found himself drifting too far to the right early, but definitely corrected that in his stellar return to the field after the interval. His work rate was enormous, tracking back time and time again, hassling in midfield and generally being our best attacking outlet.
Played a handful of superb balls in the second half (his chipped releases of
Hernandez, Kagawa and Evra were as good as his inside out pass against AC Milan that set Rooney off in the same competition) and ran brilliantly into space and at defenders. Even found time to commit a public service for his fellow professionals, when he noticed the PSI in the match ball to be somewhat lacking.
I’ll leave you with this: imagine a Manchester United without Nani last night. Who creates the chances? Who is the creative outlet? The others tried, but he actually delivered. Since the Everton game his attitude and application has been first rate.
The result has been mixed, but his enterprise cannot be faulted. For example, even after missing the penalty he didn’t drop his head and got better.
Shinji Kagawa – 7/10
Like a few teammates he looked brilliant early, provided penetration and was key in helping to establish a good tempo. He was shackled as the Turks sought to curb his influence, struggling for intervals thereafter.
Used his pace and ran the ball early on, breaking through midfield and into dangerous areas often. Provided the assist for the goal, which showed a calmness under intense pressure. I loved his awareness to step inside his marker on the outside of the box on 40 minutes, as well as his combination play with Valencia and Nani throughout the match.
Got involved again with Nani early in the second half, the two trading passes that resulted in Kagawa’s shot turned away by a lunging defender after he’d deftly stepped inside another.
Was at the heart of a good move when sheer work rate created two turnovers following superb tackles, feeding Nani who used his run as a decoy to play in RVP. Was essentially subbed for Welbeck following a decent outing.
Robin van Persie – 5/10
Spurned by Nani early on, his run failed to be acknowledged by the Portuguese when he’d sneakily created space out the back.
Worked hard thereafter but just had one of those nights. I thought he was ok, nothing more, but despite his toils just couldn’t get any sort of luck or reward. Showed flourishes, such as good control and distribution that created a series of half chances from ultimately wasteful crosses, but his early play consisted entirely of linking up, whilst the final stages of involvement were typified by indecision, impetuousness (a couple rash shots that weren’t overly realistic, including an interesting attempt at a volley) and just bad luck (a through played in behind that he hoped would run across his body allowing a rifled right footer).
Should have taken the penalty, if only to atone and get himself involved, but oh well. His final involvement was repeated efforts to maintain possession culminating in a professional foul that netted a yellow card. Didn’t quite work for Robin on the night.
Darren Fletcher – 2/5
Fletcher made his long awaited and wholly deserved return to first team action with a 10 minute cameo.
Rightly received a warm round of applause from the Old Trafford crowd. His first touch was a bizarre one, with the Scot looking up and confidently playing a ball as casually as you’d like straight to an unmarked opponent.
It’s been a while, Fletch; you’ll get back into it before long. Was caught in possession just after that, bailed out by an alert Vidic. Long road back has been travelled; this was reward for all those hours in the treatment room.
Danny Welbeck – 2/5
Didn’t figure greatly, was most likely deployed as a physical presence to see out the game. Provided one moment of quality when he nodded on for Hernandez, who couldn’t make his volley count.
Javier Hernandez – 2.5/5
Superbly played in by a stellar chipped through ball from the boot of Nani, he was quickly approached and coaled by the keeper, who he rounded well only have his shot cleared by a desperate defender. Had another shot blocked shortly after before firing a volley from close range higher in the air than it travelled towards goal.
Was under plenty of pressure as he was closed, but buzzed about and could’ve scored twice in 5 minutes.
3 – Nani
2 – Antonio Valencia
1 – Michael Carrick
Kagawa – 6
Scholes – 6
Valencia – 5
Nani – 3
Van Persie – 3
Welbeck – 2
De Gea – 2
Carrick – 1
Buttner – 1
Anderson – 1