After a quiet weekend with the away game to Blackpool called off, the Manchester players were all fresh and ready to start for the final group stage match of the Champions League.
Sir Alex Ferguson promised pre-match he would be fielding a strong side, with a formation of 4-4-2 with Rooney and Berbatov up front with the young Ben Amos between the sticks.
Having Fabio start at left back, clearly it wasn’t the best team to put out, yet there was enough firepower to grab all points off the fixture. Valencia came to Old Trafford having nothing to lose, knowing any win for them would get them top of the table, while a draw would let United hold.
This was probably Manchester United’s most watchable football game among all the group stage games. Valencia started well with over 60% possession in the first ten minutes and it was riveting end to end stuff all throughout the game.
United’s brightest player on the pitch was Anderson. He looked fresh from the start, latching onto loose balls in the centre of the park and trying to split through the centre of Valencia defence [with quite some success] to set Rooney or Berba free. Ando created 2 chances for himself and missed one which was a sitter, but what was most distressing was the number of times Berba was one on one with the last defender or the keeper (3) and dint convert any of those.
As united continued to pile on the chances, they were made to rue their poor efforts in the final third, when Carrick in the middle of the park lost possession leading to a quick break and an unmarked Hernandez slotting between Ben’s legs.
Nothing much changed at half time except that Fabio continued to struggle to keep the shape back four leaving Vidic to do quite a bit of covering. Rio Ferdinand was subbed out 5min into the second half, seemed more like a precautionary one with two big games (Arsenal and Chelsea) coming up.
United continued to knock on the doors until a brilliant effort from Wayne Rooney cutting in and curling a right footer to the left top corner of Guaita’s goal only to rebound off the crossbar. Persistence eventually gave fruit to a clean strike from Park Ji Sung stinging the keepers hands falling right to Ando’s welcoming left foot to drive it in.
Initially after equalizing though united did look comfortable, Ando started tiring and Valencia spending a lot more time in United’s half lead to SAF switching to a 4-5-1 with Rooney dropping and that did the job. Ryan Giggs and Darren Fletcher had a run-in to say the least.
- Anderson is a livewire in the centre of the park and provides the much needed vision and speed to shift ball from defence to offense in a few seconds and clearly the best player for me on the pitch today. Got his well deserved first goal for United at OT.
- Rooney and Berbatov continue to show the brilliant link up play and chemistry 2 strikers should have in a 4-4-2, with the former making good progress and almost scoring with a brilliant effort.
- Ben Amos had a fairly satisfactory day on duty, with no serious qualms apart from the goal he could do nothing much about.
- Fabio looked out of position a number of times, his judgement on when to hold and when and how high to push up the pitch needs to be addressed.
- Berbatov was disappointing today for the number of goal scoring opportunities he wasted. He needs to buckle up with Hernandez knocking at the doors.
- Anderson was struggling last 15min, needs to work on his fitness.
My Player Ratings:
Ben Amos: 7.5, Fabio: 6.5, Vidic: 8.0, Ferdinand: 7.0, [s] Smalling: 7.5, Rafael: 7.5, Park: 8.0; Carrick: 7.5, Anderson: 9.0, Nani: 8.0, [s] Giggs: 7.0, [s] Fletcher: 7.0, Rooney : 9.0, Berbatov: 8.0