Lightning Almost Struck Twice At Parkhead
What a strange game it was. United bossed it entirely, played Celtic off the park for 90 minutes yet looked bereft of ideas in front of goal and almost lost the match.
Fergie's team selection was certainly a huge gamble: he left out Berbatov and Rooney and opted for Giggs and Tevez up front while Rafael and O'Shea operated as full-backs. The first chance of course fell to Ronaldo but his effort was blocked and Celtic took the lead at the end of the first quarter of an hour: McDonald lofted the ball brilliantly over Ben Foster.
The goal was a shock for United but the European champions monopolised possession afterwards and began to exert real pressure. However, every single member of the front four was disappointing in the first half and one had to arrive at the conclusion that we simply seem to be much less an attacking threat without Berbatov.
Tevez drifted wide too often, Ronaldo drifted in too often, Giggs got lost entirely all too often while Nani did not seem to know what he should do. Corners represented United's best chances as every single one unsettled Celtic, to my surprise. Rio and Vidic both missed great chances to equalise but in the end we had very little to show for our superior possession. The Scots defended deep, with nine men behind the ball and we had no ideas how to break it down.
The central midfielders, Carrick and Fletcher, did their best: they dominated the centre of the park, knocked the ball around around very well and supplied very promising passes but the front four always seemed to hit a brick wall while the full-backs rarely got behind the defence and when they did, they either screwed up the cross or the ball was simply deflected to corners.
Sir Alex acted at the break: brought off Nani and introduced Berbatov. The substitution had its desired effect as our attacks became more sharp and focused. Ronaldo was told to stay on the right flank and cut inside with the ball which he did to great effect while Berba's link-up play was better than anything Giggs or Tevez provided in the first half. Still the corners were the most threatening and Berbatov could have equalised from one of them but for Maloney who cleared the ball off the line.
Finally we started to create chances in open play as well, Tevez missing the best one after some incredible mayhem in the box. By this point it was clear that the little Argentinian, who started the season in such promising fashion, is in a very bad form. He miscontrolled passes all too often, he gave away the ball too easily, his dribbles did not come off, and he looked off the pace. It was no surprise when Fergie called him off and replaced him with Rooney who looked much sharper than Carlitos during the 20 minutes available to him.
United's superiority was almost embarassing but it looked like that Celtic somehow, miraculously would survive the onslaught. They didn't, though: the impressive Ronaldo's ferocious shot was palmed away by Boruc but into the path of Giggs who headed it home from close range.
A richly deserved equaliser, no doubt and even a winner could have followed in injury time when Berbatov brought down a cross, turned and sent a low shot just wide of the post... everyone on the bench had their heads in their hands but the 1-1 draw is still an acceptable result as Villarreal could only draw 2-2 at Aalborg - therefore a point at Spain and a win over the Danish side would land top spot for United. Hope for the best and bring on Arsenal!