Manchester United confirmed their place in the first knockout round of the Champions’ League with a hard fought win over Rangers at Ibrox. The build-up to this game was all about Wayne Rooney‘s first start since October, but United were missing some key experience at the back in the form of Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra. Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Fabio were the players to fill-in, John O’Shea started at right back. The likes of Park and Fletcher were missing form the eleven, and the game saw the return of Ryan Giggs after six weeks. Berbatov and Rooney paired up front for the first time in a while.
The Scottish champions fielded their usual European 5-4-1 formation, and so it was a given that United were going to struggle with creating opportunities. We should, however, been given a penalty in the opening minutes of the game, but Steven Davis was lucky not to be reprimanded for his blatant foul on Berbatov. Following this however, there was a continuous battle in midfield, and despite seemingly having the lion’s share of the possession, the stats showed that that particular statistic was fairly even.
Rangers, spurred on by the vociferous Ibrox crowd, tried to break forward on the odd occasion, though set-pieces would obviously be their best source of attacking threat. And this was indeed so on fifteen minutes, when David Weir’s headed ball reached Kenny Miller, but Rangers’ top scorer headed wide from six yards out. At the other end, Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes were controlling proceedings in the middle of the park, and Fabio’s overlapping runs down the left caused make-shift right back Steven Davis a few problems. A period of good passing led to a chance for Nani, but he only managed to blaze his shot well beyond the goal.
Wayne Rooney was having a tough time in this game, and not much of what he was trying actually came off. And besides, he was being constantly booed by the crowd — once again, it is unknown whether or not this was solely Rangers fans. He did come close though with a header that hit the bar, but besides that, didn’t really provide much of a goal threat. Rangers then had a great chance of their own when Naismith played in Kenny Miller, but the striker’s finish with the outside of the boot was saved well by the feet of van der Sar. And that’s how the half ended — with just a few chances for each side, and no one looking the more likely to score in terms of tangible opportunities on goal.
The second half began with slightly more purpose to it, perhaps the knowledge that Rangers would have to win given Valencia’s result at the same time. Rooney came close early in the half with a thirty yard freekick, but his curling effort went wide. There was a moment of worry for United fans when Evans’s misjudgement let Naismith through on goal, but van der Sar showed no signs of age coming off his line and closing down the midfielder.
In the 87th minutes, Naismith was involved again, but this time to the advantage of Manchester United. Fabio made a dart into the box to collected a lofted pass, but Naismith rashly brought him down with a ridiculously high challenge — and the officials made no mistake this time and awarded the penalty. And up-stepped Wayne Rooney, with the weight of the world (or United fans anyway) on his shoulders and coolly slotted past Alan McGregor in the Rangers goal. There was nothing cool about his celebration however, and he ran over with a wildness in his demeanour to the travelling fans, partly to celebrate having scored after a long time, and partly maybe, to reconcile with his former loyal admirers. A timely goal indeed, and one that ensure that we will progress onto the next round.
The game was important in many respects that it provided opportunities for the more inexperienced players of the side like Smalling and Fabio to showcase their talent and get a feel of what European nights are like. And they certainly did their cases no harm, with both defenders turning in excellent performances on the night. Michael Carrick was once again impressive in midfield, and showed some great vision in his passing and bite in his tackles. His season certainly seems to be on the up. Berbatov too enjoyed a better night this time round, and combined well with Rooney, who no doubt will be delighted to have scored a goal, despite it being just a penalty. Valencia will need to win by two goals or more at Old Trafford to secure top spot, but that should, touch wood, be an easy scenario to prevent. United can also become the first team to progress through the group stages having not conceded a single goal, should a clean sheet be maintained on the occasion. Looking forward to that day, then.
Best Moment: Rooney’s winner
Worst Moment: Kenny Miller’s one-on-one with van der Sar
Man of the Match: Michael Carrick/ Fabio
Written by member Sownak27