Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sporting fans show class unlike United...

Manchester United somehow managed to scrape a 1-0 victory over Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League on Wednesday night. The Reds had Cristiano Ronaldo to thank for the win, his second half headed goal was United's highlight on the pitch in an otherwise disappointing performance.

Having scored against his former club Ronaldo bowed as if by way of apology to the home supporters, who in return stood and applauded him in appreciation of the gesture. It was a mark of respect from both the player and the home fans who later gave the United winger a standing ovation when he was withdrawn late on in the second half.

While the Sporting fans were showing class in the stands, their team was having the better of things on a surprisingly poor pitch that was cutting-up at every challenge for the ball. The pitch problems didn't seem to bother the home team, so much so that but for Edwin van der Sar in the United goal Sporting would have been two goals to the good. The Dutch stopper made two top-class saves, one in either half.

At the other end Ronaldo was by far United's best attacking player on the night as once again the Reds tactics in Europe left a lot to be desired, as did the overall performance of United's midfield and forward line.

Ryan Giggs was supposed to be playing in a five-man midfield, but in truth he looked lost and in the first half especially on the few occasions when he actually touched the ball he gave it away. Scholes was marginally better, but his passing was off-key too as was the totally ineffective Nani and Michael Carrick. On the night collectively, United's midfield was not much short of a shambles in an attacking and passing sense, the only plus point was that they did get behind the ball quickly when the opposition had the ball.

Ferguson had opted to start the game with just Rooney up front with Ronaldo supporting from midfield, but it simply did not work and Rooney was all too often left isolated.

Personally I'm hoping that once Hargreaves is fit again United will go with a 4-4-2 because against Sporting, and it has to be said on other occasions when Fergie has gone with 4-5-1 it does not seem to work.

If United had someone like Drogba, then playing with one striker might be an option, but the truth is they don't have a Drogba. Saha is the nearest thing United have to a proper out and out target-man. But Fergie isn't going to leave both Rooney and Tevez on the bench is he?

Apart from Ronaldo's goal and Van der Sar's saves, the other major plus point on the night was that the partnership of Vidic and Ferdinand, which is looking better by the week, as once again they were rock solid.

While United did not play well as a team on the night, they got the thing that mattered most, a win on their travels, which is the best possible way to start a European campaign.

Going into the game Graeme Sounses commented 'I honestly don't think Fergie knows what his best team is'. Quite. The thing is, the United manager has been without key players until this week. Now Fergie has the luxury of having a virtually fully fit squad barring Hargreaves and Neville, but both should be back soon and in an attacking sense United can only get better.

However, Fergie has to get his formation right in Europe. In 1999 United won the Champions League with two strikers up front in Yorke and Cole. We need to get back to that, because that is the United way. We do not do boring negative football well, we never have and I doubt we ever will.

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