Man United 1 Galatasaray 0: Lessons from unconvincing Red Devils win
Man United 1 Galatasaray 0: What lessons did we learn as Michael Carrick's goal helped the Red Devils to an unconvincing victory?
Carrick spares United’s blushes
Manchester United boast an impressive Champions League group-stage record since the competition started in 1992, losing just four games at Old Trafford. However, two of those losses came against Turkish opposition – Fenerbache in 1996 and Besiktas in 2009. Throw into the equation the Red Devils’ poor form at home in Europe last season – Sir Alex Ferguson’s side drew 2-2 with Basel and Benfica – and there were inevitably a few nerves floating around the Theatre of Dreams. But the United fans soon settled when Michael Carrick netted his first goal in the competition in three seasons just seven minutes into the Group H opener. Carrick strode forward with the ball, switching a short pass to Shinji Kagawa – the Japanese midfielder’s return pass was perfectly timed as Carrick stepped past the onrushing Galatasaray goalkeeper Fernando Muslera and rolled his finish into the empty net. It was a composed run and finish from the midfielder who seems to be rekindling his best form this season.
United continue to look defensively frail
The 19-time English champions have been impressive going forward this season, with Tom Cleverley, Kagawa and Robin van Persie all adding extra thrust to United’s attacks. But defensively, without a commanding holding midfielder, the Red Devils have looked frightfully open at times. It was a theme which continued against their Turkish opponents as Fatih Terim’s midfield were dominant and threatened to deny Ferguson his 100th Champions League win as Carrick, Kagawa and Paul Scholes struggled to offer a defensive shield to the back four, particularly United’s full-backs. Nordin Amrabat issued the home side with an early warning when he ran at an exposed Jonny Evans, before cutting onto his right foot and crashing a shot against David De Gea’s crossbar. In the 39th minute, Selçuk İnan cunning set-piece was squared to an unmarked Hamit Altıntop, with the former Bayern Munich star narrowly firing wide. The visitors continued to press for a leveller in the second half, and a devastating counter-attack almost yielded an equaliser with 18 minutes remaining. Burak Yılmaz was played through and his effort was parried by De Gea, before Emre Colak’s powerful follow-up shot was superbly palmed over the crossbar by the Spanish keeper – the 21-year-old will hope the double save will merit a place in Ferguson’s starting XI at Anfield on Sunday. Yet, against more clinical opponents, the Spanish keeper would not have managed to keep a rare clean sheet.
Who is Ferguson’s first-choice penalty taker?
The Red Devils were handed their third penalty of the season in the 52nd minute when Rafael da Silva was adjudged to have been fouled by Burak Yilmaz in the visitors’ area. United had missed two spot-kicks prior to Wednesday night’s opening Champions League fixture. Before the international break, Robin van Persie’s chipped effort was saved by Southampton goalkeeper Kelvin Davis, although the Dutch striker later made amends for that miss with a hat-trick, while Javier Hernandez’s attempt was parried wide by Wigan Athletic shot-stopper Ali Al-Habsi on Saturday. With Van Persie starting against Galatasaray, the 29-year-old would have been favourite to step up and convert the spot-kick. But, surprisingly, Nani assumed the responsibility. The Portugal winger’s stuttering run-up and tame shot was saved by Muslera, meaning United have now missed as many penalties as they did in the whole 2011-12 campaign. It appears despite Van Persie’s goals, Wayne Rooney’s absence is being felt at Old Trafford.
United could yet be pilloried
Earlier this week, Ferguson admitted United would be pilloried if they failed to emerge from a very straightforward looking Group H. Galatasaray were, on paper at least, set to be the Red Devils’ most testing opponents, but a wholly unconvincing display will prompt questions over United’s ability to go deep into the competition. At the moment, there appears to be no balance between defence and attack, and the 19-time English champions have a remarkably poor record at home in Europe over the past 18 months. Had Ferguson’s men been drawn in Group D alongside Real Madrid, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund, we could be talking about another premature group-stage exit. As it is, United should be able to iron out their glaring weaknesses in the Premier League, while boasting enough quality to emerge from Group H. Next up is a trip to Romania’s Cluj followed by a home tie against Braga. Ferguson’s side will be desperate to secure convincing victories to inspire confidence amongst their supporters and restore the fear factor which has dwindled over the past season.