United were unable to bounce back from last weekend’s disappointment at Goodison, after being frustrated to a goalless draw by an ultra-defensive Rangers side. The first Champions’ League matchday led to the so-called “Battle of Britain”, and two managers in Sir Alex and Walter Smith, who know a lot about each other.
Wayne Rooney was to be recalled to the starting lineup, and was one of ten changes made by Sir Alex, much to the surprise of all. Tomasz Kuszczak started in goal for the first time this season, with a new-look defence in front of him, sporting a returning Rio Ferdinand, Chris Smalling, Fabio and Wes Brown. Darren Fletcher was the only survivor from last weekend, and he played alongside Gibson, Valencia and Park. Rooney and Hernandez started up front — a pairing many fancied against the ageing Rangers captain, David Weir.
United began the game strongly, and as everyone expected, Rangers started with a very defensive mindset. The manner in which the game proceeded in the opening minutes gave an insight into the manner of the rest of the game. In any case, United came closest to goal after a good cross from Fabio on the left found Hernandez in the box, who did well to rise up between two central defenders, and only missed by a few inches.
Rangers themselves had limited attacking threat, and more often than not found themselves camped in their own half, with nine men behind the ball. Kenny Miller had a tough evening in store for him as the sole Rangers frontman, and was starved of any service all evening. The closest the Gers came to a chance was through speculative shots from well outside the box, and Kuszczak had no problems dealing with these.
Openings were very difficult to find, and a telling statistic of this was the number of crosses that failed to find their targets in the box. Gibson had two strikes from about thirty yards, the first just missing the post, and the second forcing a save out of the relatively untroubled Alan McGregor in the Rangers goal. Darren Fletcher seemed a threat all half with his lung-busting runs, though the well-drilled Rangers outfit were seemingly immune to any ideas. There was a slight scare for United fans towards the end of the first half when a change of direction from Whittaker caused Rooney to lose his balance and roll his ankle, that sent alarm bells ringing round Old Trafford. After some initial hobbling however, the England striker seemed fine.
The second half continued in much the same way, although Rangers started to find some gaps of their own as United began to push forward for that elusive opening goal. Smalling and Ferdinand did not have too much to worry about though, and their main role turned into becoming the starting point for subsequent attacks. Rooney cut a frustrated figure up front and didn’t look his usual self when carrying the ball forward. Understandably, all the off-field hoopla has had some effect on his recent performances. Hernandez tried to make his trademark runs behind the Rangers defence, but for one reason or another, there were no balls played above the defence — all the passes being played to feet. Perplexing.
All the previous frustration then became immaterial in the 58th minute however, with a horrific injury to Valencia. Kirk Broadfoot’s seemingly innocuous challenge caused the Ecuadorian winger to fall awkwardly, and as he fell, you could see the concern on everyone’s faces as they called for help from the physio. There was no question about the fact that he would not play any further part in the game, and initial signs are that he could be out for the season. Terrible news for the lad, who must have been desperate to improve further after his terrific first season at the club. Let’s wish him a speedy recovery, and that this injury has no long-term effects.
The injury to Valencia had a mixed effect on everyone’s emotions. The team was visibly shaken, but also more determined to get a goal now, though it did not turn out that way. Gibson came close with a spectacular volley from thirty yeards, and substitute Giggs found Fletcher’s run in the box, though the former Rangers youth player could not do anything about it. The referee added six minutes of injury time after the incident with Valencia, but even this was not enough for the changed United lineup to get a goal. So much expectation, but a bore nil-nil draw at the end.
A disappointing start to the Champions’ League campaign, but surely this must be nothing but a minor blip. Many fans were left wondering why our best players of the season so far in Berbatov and Nani were completely left out of the squad. Ferdinand on his return and Fletcher were the best performers from a fairly poor batch, players like Park and Rooney were particularly poor on the night. Let’s hope that when the full-strength side turns out next week at Old Trafford for the visit of Liverpool, Sir Alex’s horde of changes are justified. Fingers crossed now for the big one!
Best Moment: Not much — maybe when Rooney started moving freely after an initial scare
Worst Moment: Not much debate — Val’s horrific injury
Man of the Match: Ferdinand/ Fletcher
Written by Sownak27