Cluj 1 Man United 2: Lessons as Van Persie’s brace secures Red Devils win
Cluj 1 Man United 2: What lessons did we learn as Robin van Persie scored twice to help the Red Devils to victory in Romania?
Rooney and Van Persie partnership shows promise
Sir Alex Ferguson was finally able to include Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie together in his starting line-up as the England striker regained full fitness for their Champions League tie in Romania. The Netherlands striker started alongside Javier Hernández, with Rooney occupying an advanced position in midfield. The tactic made United look dreadfully narrow at times, with Patrice Evra and Rafael encouraged to offer support from their full-back positions. Unsurprisingly, Ioan Andone’s side dropped deep and invited the Red Devils to break down their defence. For large portions of the Group H tie, Ferguson’s men were left frustrated with little time or space in the attacking third for Rooney to weave his magic or Hernández to make his customary darting runs. The visitors did finally make a breakthrough in the 29th minute as Rooney and Van Persie combined – but not in the manner most would have envisaged. Rooney’s free-kick was met by the Dutch finisher, who was unmarked and inadvertently used his shoulder to loop the ball over Cluj goalkeeper Mário Felgueiras. If there was a touch of fortune about Van Persie’s first, the United striker’s second was a classy move. Rooney struck a wondrous pass which evaded the Cluj defence and Van Persie was on hand to guide his seventh goal of the season into the net with customary class and precision.
Evra becoming United’s weak link
United snapped up highly-rated Alexander Büttner from Vitesse Arnhem this summer, presumably as a long-term replacement for Patrice Evra. The 23-year-old has already featured twice this season and the United manager could be prompted to draft in the Netherlands international on a regular basis following Evra’s poor performance against Cluj. Tottenham Hotspur targeted the ageing France international in their historic 3-2 victory at the weekend and Evra was at fault for Cluj’s opening goal on Tuesday night. Senegal winger Modou Sougou, who was carrying an injury and was eventually substituted in the 23rd minute, skipped past the one-paced Evra and crossed low into the area where an unmarked Antelis Kapeanos tucked his finish past David de Gea to give Cluj a 14th minute lead. The veteran full-back’s nightmare was prematurely ended when Sougou was forced off midway through the first half after failing to recover from an earlier collision with Anderson but not before carving out further opportunities for his team-mates as Evra continued to toil. Ferguson will need to address a growing weakness in his United side with the former Monaco defender increasingly becoming a liability in recent seasons. Ferguson should view this campaign as a chance to blood Büttner with Evra acting as a suitable mentor for the promising Dutch defender.
Valencia’s width missed
Antonio Valencia’s absence was felt throughout a frustrating first half for the visitors who found it difficult to navigate a way past dogged Cluj defence. A wall of opposition players greeted United’s midfield each time Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley or Rooney stepped inside the final third and endeavoured to thread a pass through to Hernández or Van Persie. There was simply no width to Ferguson’s side and it worked in Cluj’s favour – Nani was benched for the tie. Valencia’s pace, trickery and hard-work have made him a crowd favourite since joining from Wigan Athletic and a regular under Ferguson – when fit. Without the Ecudorian and deploying a three-man midfield, United lacked the width to stretch Cluj while Evra and Rafael failed to offer an outlet on the either wing. In addition, with Nani absent, Evra was left exposed in an alarming 20-minute cameo from Sougou.
Ferguson’s men still guilty of “stupid errors”
In the lead up to United’s second Group H fixture, Ferguson, Jonny Evans and Rooney all emphasised how important it was that the Red Devils cut out the “stupid errors” this term after suffering a humiliating exit in the group stage last season. The 19-time English champions were somewhat fortunate to scrape past Galatasaray in their opening game with mistakes still creeping into their performance. In Romania, a country where United have a 100 per cent record, United continued to be unimpressive. A difficult opening 30 minutes will have brought back memories of the uncomfortable moments from their 2011/12 campaign as Cluj netted an early opener and threatened to compound the visitors’ misery. Cluj’s goal was riddled with United errors as Evra and Evans will have presumably felt Ferguson’s wrath at half-time, while a lapse in concentration allowed Kapeanos to direct a free header at the United goal shortly after the interval – De Gea was on hand to produce an athletic stop. The Old Trafford outfit will more than likely be able to get away with mistakes in what is a straightforward group but there will be no room for error in the last-16 if the Red Devils intend to earn their fourth European crown.