Thursday, February 21, 2008

Transfer target lays down marker as Nani leads Red revival..

If there was any doubts about the class of Karim Benzema they were blown away in some style on 54 minutes when the Lyon striker scored a goal out of nothing, which ignited the atmosphere in the Stade de Gerland in the first leg of the knock-out stages of Manchester United's Champions League tie last night.

Benzema, 20, has been linked strongly to United over the last few days and not surprisingly given the manner of his goal against the Reds he has been described as Europe's hottest young striker.

Slightly uncharacteristically when talking to the media, Fergie has let it slip that the young Lyon star is a 'possibility' with United looking to sign a new striker following the departure of Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

United had been given fair warning of the French international's ability when mid-way through the first-half Lyon counter-attacked down the Reds exposed left-flank, the ball was eventually cut-back onto the edge of the United penalty area, but thankfully the big striker launched his drive over Van der Sarr's crossbar.

However, that wasn't the best chance of the first-half as United's very own pocket-battle-ship Wayne Rooney spurned a great opportunity to score when put through by Ryan Giggs. However, the England striker hesitated when running at speed with the ball before pulling the trigger, which resulted in Gregory Coupet pulling off a good save. That missed chance could have been proven to be very costly with Lyon taking that second-half lead.

Every time Benzema was on the ball, the home supporters sparked into life chanting his name and it was noticeable that the United defenders looked less that comfortable pretty much every time he was involved in the build-up, though in fairness apart from the Benzema goal and the first-half chance which he spurned Vidic and Company handled him reasonably well.

Despite the game being one of few chances, it was a decent match to watch, with both defences working hard when closing down, as early as the first few minutes Patrice Evra had to make a last-ditch diving challenge to deny Govou from six yards out. At the other end, Scholes burst into the penalty area only to be denied by a Lyon defender and that was the general pattern of the game. Every time United engineered an opening a Lyon player managed to block it.

When the Reds went one-nil down, it was fairly obvious that Fergie needed to make changes, both managers had started the game with a cautious line-up which included just one striker. For United, there was no starting place for Carlos Tevez or Nani, who was one of the Reds heroes against Arsenal in the FA Cup win on Saturday. However, on 65 minutes Fergie made two significant changes when he introduced both players when replacing Giggs and Scholes who had done ok without giving Lyon too many uncomfortable moments.

From the moment Tevez and Nani entered the action the Reds looked far more dangerous with Nani and Tevez at the heart of the Reds probing attacks. On 78 minutes, Carrick came on for Hargreaves, which led to a passage of untidy play with United giving the ball away cheaply, at which point the visiting fans must have started to think about taking Lyon back to Old Trafford with a one goal deficit.

However, United were not done with and it was Nani and Tevez who did the damage when combining to give the Reds a deserved equaliser on 88 minutes. Against the Gunners at the weekend Nani supplied two first-class crosses which led to goals for Fletcher and against Lyon the former Porto winger did it again, this time his arching ball from the right was initially missed by the head of Carlos Tevez, however, the ball eventually fell to Carrick, his effort was blocked, before it pinged back to Tevez who smashed it into the roof of the Lyon net.

The result leaves Fergie with much to ponder regarding selection issues ahead of United's next game, which is Newcastle away. Prior to the Lyon match and on live TV, the United manager as good as admitted that he did not know if he'd got his starting eleven right and while it was a cautious line-up it will be interesting to see who goes on to cement the starting places in midfield over the coming weeks ahead.

Ronaldo was kept in check and didn't impress against Lyon, the same can be said of Rooney, who to be fair was on his own up front, but if the Reds have serious ambitions of winning the Champions League this season, both will have to improve on last night's performance. The truly great players always figure in the big games, no matter what.

Another point that Fergie and his coaching staff may consider is how best to handle the likes of Benzema. Lyon had started with one lone striker, yet United had four at the back. United play with a zonal defence, perhaps they should consider going man-to-man with Vidic marking Benzema.

United's man of the match against Lyon was Nani who made the difference in a short space of time.


  1. Job done but the writing is clearly on the wall for Giggs & Scholes.

  2. Benzema is not going to go to United and warm the bench. Clearly the lad is class - he made Rooney look very ordinary. Why can't England produce a player with two good feet, and good both on and off the ball?

  3. I agree with the writing does appear to be on the wall for what remains of the 'golden generation'.

    Giggsy has had a pretty good season, but once you get to 30 you start to really go downhill and it's remarkable that at 34 he's still at the club and in the first team, but Nani has done really well in his last two games. The trick for him now is to be consistent...

    As for Scholes, I seriously believe that it's time to use him from the bench for away games, but against lesser prem teams, sure he could start. But he's not the player he was IMO. Added to which Fergie cannot leave out Anderson and Hargreaves as he has done so often this season, it is madness.

    Benzema did very well and while we can say Rooney was up against two centre-backs, so was the French striker and there's no doubting who looked the more impressive/dangerous, it wasn't Wayne.

    I guess the difference is that Benzema is considered as a genuine number nine and Rooney is more of a second striker. TO me though, that illustrates the need to find a genuine hitman and then you really do have the option of playing 4-5-1 away from home, because as things stand that option will never quite work so well for United given our striker options.

    Benzema has been compared to many top players of the recent past including Zidane and Platini but he's not like any of them. I'd liken him more to Torres if anyone.


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