Wednesday, December 08, 2010

United v Valencia: Anderson and Rooney shine, while Berbatov and Carrick fluff their lines...

United were in action last night when Valencia visited Old Trafford for the final Champions League Group C game. Going into the game, Ferguson and his players knew no less than a point would be good enough to secure top spot; securing a point would avoid a potential meeting with Barcelona or Real Madrid, so it was vital that United did not lose.

With both clubs knowing that they had already qualified for the knockout phase prior to last night, some observers might have been expecting a damp squib, but it was anything but that as things turned out, both teams tried to win which made for a decent game on a good Old Trafford playing surface.

It finished up one apiece, but it was Valencia who took the lead. The opening goal was very much against the run of play; on 32 minutes, it was Pablo who punished United following a mistake by Michael Carrick, who lost possession near the half-way line.

Following a lengthy spell on the sidelines, Carrick appears to be back in favour at the expense of Darren Fletcher. Fletcher was only a substitute when United thrashed Blackburn 7-1 in the last home game, but he played the whole 90 minutes in the shocking 4-0 Carling Cup defeat to West Ham last week and it looks like Carrick might well have dislodged the Scot for now at least anyway. However, while Carrick is undoubtedly a better passer of the ball, he still makes silly mistakes from time to time; he is one of those players who wants too much time on the ball, which is precisely what happened in the build-up to Valencia's goal.

Apart from his mistake, Carrick had a decent game, but it was Anderson who was United's star performer in central midfield. Anderson has played in United's last three games; he was good against Blackburn and Valencia, but like Fletcher, the Brazilian was totally ineffective against West Ham last week.

It was fitting that Anderson scored United's equalising goal against Valencia, because he was the man of the match. In two of United's last three games, the Brazilian has shown signs that just maybe he could have a long-term future at the club, but consistency is the key.

United face Arsenal at Old Trafford next Monday and you can be 100% sure that Ferguson is wrestling with the question of who should start against the Gunners in central midfield. Last season you could have put money on the United manager starting with 4-3-3, with Rooney playing atop on his own, but following his recent fall from favour, things are not so cut and dried.

Dimitar Berbatov has been blowing hot and cold this season; he was superb against Liverpool when he scored that fabulous hat-trick a few weeks ago, he was brilliant against Blackburn when he bagged five great goals, but last night his touch totally deserted him - in fact, the Bulgarian had something of a stinker by his standards.

So Ferguson has to now decide not only who should start in central midfield against Arsenal, but also, who should start up front.

Don't be surprised if Berbatov finds himself on the bench again next Monday and Rooney starts up front on his own. Rooney played against Blackburn and Valencia; he looked very good in both games, he was very unlucky not to score against the Spaniards last night when his curling right foot drive rebounded off the cross bar in the opening period. Rooney rarely gives the ball away cheaply and passing around the opposition penalty area is exemplary, but of course the goals have to start to flow and that is another issue for Ferguson to mull over.

Arsenal are very strong in midfield and that is why Ferguson may well consider starting with just one striker.

Rio Ferdinand has given the United manager another headache, due to a slight hamstring strain, but at this point, reports suggest he will be fit to face the Gunners next week.

The da Silva twins played the whole 90 minutes last night and both did quite well, but Fabio needs to learn when to overlap his winger and when to hold back, because there was a couple of occasions when he went beyond Park and United lost possession - there is a very strong danger that against a better side United would be punished.

The only other talking point worth mention is the performance of Ben Amos, United's third 'keeper had a pretty good game against Valencia, but his kicking did give the home fans palpitations on a couple of occasions.

Bring on the Gunners.

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