Manchester United returned to winning ways after the weekend’s loss with a 2-1 win over Romanian outfit CRF Cluj courtesy of a match winning brace from Robin Van Persie.
As the score-line might suggest, this was not a game that was easily won for United, but in saying that it was a game they won without exerting too big an effort. Whilst United probably did not do as much as they could have once taking the lead from behind to extend their advantage, Sir Alex will be content with a showing in which United almost completely bossed the game, leaving plenty in the tank for the weekend’s trip to Newcastle.
Robin Van Persie proved the difference once more, scoring his first two Champions League goals for his new club, whilst there were more valuable minutes for the likes of Wayne Rooney, Darren Fletcher, Anderson, Tom Cleverley and Javier Hernandez. Rooney in particular impressed once more, in a game where his immense positivity on the ball was rewarded with two assists, as he looks to form a better understanding with new strike partner Robin Van Persie.
One player who would seem a tad guilty of taking their minutes on the pitch for granted however, is Patrice Evra. The French full-back was culpable in the extreme for the goal that United conceded in the 14th minute. United had opened the game positively as well, but all that promise was effectively undone when Evra was caught in no-man’s land, making Rafael Bastos’ choice of pass a remarkably easy one to make. The Brazilian swept a fine ball to the unmarked Modou Sougou, who sped into the space ahead, shrugging off Evra’s challenge and centering the ball to the feet of Pantelis Kapetanos, who was also left unmarked courtesy of Jonny Evans. The striker made no mistake with his finish, turning the ball beyond David De Gea to allow the underdogs to take a surprise lead.
Sir Alex had highlighted the efficiency of Cluj’s counter-attacks, and after insisting that United’s days of conceding early goals was over, he would have been absolutely furious at the ease with which Cluj managed to score their opener. Both Evra and Evans improved markedly over the remainder of the game, but where Evra is concerned, one wonders whether or not another lapse will be enough to cost him position in the side at the weekend for a tough game away to Newcastle.
The goal proved a rare period in possession for the hosts, and United recovered from the set back relatively well. They were perhaps helped by Cluj’s naivety in choosing to sit back rather than chasing a second goal, but nevertheless, United kept the ball extremely well, though they struggled to penetrate the two lines of Cluj defences with any regularity. Robin Van Persie was United’s most obvious threat, and he went very close to scoring after a fantastic lobbed pass from Tom Cleverley.
It was a sign of things to come, and it was indeed Van Persie who leveled the scores in the 29th minute. Wayne Rooney was the provider, with a fantastic deliver from a free kick on the left, which Van Persie looped over Mario Felgueiras with a rather fortuitous touch off of his shoulder. For United and Van Persie though, how it went in was of little importance, so long as it crossed the line.
Van Persie might have added his second sooner than he eventually did soon after when Javier Hernandez slipped the mercurial Dutch striker through with a fine pass, one of his few contributions of note to the game, but Van Persie’s cross goal shot was well blocked by the goalkeeper.
Though they could not find the lead before half time, United would have been happy with their first half performance, beside another defensive lapse which might have proven costly. They were bossing the game, with Rooney, Cleverley and Rafael all impressing, whilst Van Persie was getting in so many good positions it seemed that the same effort in the second half would produce a goal sooner rather than later.
And so it was. United completed their comeback four minutes after the break, with Rooney and Van Persie combining to devastating effect once more. Rooney popped up on the right side of midfield with the ball, curling a lovely ball into Robin Van Persie’s path. The Dutchman timed his run to perfection, poking his foot out and flicking the ball beyond the keeper and into the far side-netting. It was a goal worthy of winning any game, and it would prove the eventual match winner.
United slowed the game right down after taking the lead, and seemed more than content to simple keep possession of the ball. Jonny Evans eventually had to come off with a dead leg, allowing Scott Wootton to make his Champions League debut.
The Red Devils saw out most of the game with relative ease, but David De Gea was awoken from his slumber to make a number of important saves before the game was done and dusted. The first came from a corner, when Cluj captain Cadu rose highest from the set piece to head on goal, drawing a fine reaction save from De Gea, who did his chances of starting against Newcastle in the Premier League fixture this weekend. De Gea closed the game out for United with a fine last minute save to deny Bastos at the near post.
All-in-all with three points in the bag, and a less than strenuous game, United can be pleased with the result, and the manner in which it was won, allowing them to refocus their attentions on the Premier League, with six points from six in the Champions League in tow.
United: De Gea 7.5, Rafael 8*, Ferdinand 7, Evans 6, Evra 5.5, Fletcher 6.5, Anderson 6.5, Cleverley 7, Rooney 7.5, Hernandez 5, Van Persie 7.5
Man of the Match:
Another fantastic performance from Rafael as he continues to mature into a world-class right back. A fantastic defensive contribution, matched only by his willingness to move forward as a wide outlet in attack, Rafael, without doing anything spectacular, stuck out as perhaps United’s best performer. Evra could learn a thing or two from the young Brazilian. Oh, how they grow…