At Least United's Unbeaten Record Is Still Intact
United equalled the record jointly held by Bayern Munich and Ajax by avoiding defeat for the 19th consecutive Champions League game in a distinctly uninspiring 2-2 home draw against Denmark's Aalborg.
As qualification was already secured, Fergie risked fielding the admittedly unfit Gary Neville and opted for a little asymmetric, lopsided 4-3-3 with Nani pushing further up and drifting in more often than usual, supporting Rooney and Tevez while a three-man midfield of Gibson, Giggs and Anderson should have provided the chances.
And it looked like a great strategy when United took the lead in the 3rd minute after some delightful football: Rooney flicked the ball into Giggs' path and the Welsh Wizard's beautiful chipped pass sent clear Tevez who finished calmly and confidently.
It looked like that United would run riot as Giggs, Anderson, Rooney and Tevez repeatedly carved open the visitors' defence with fluid passing moves. Tevez could have added another two minutes later but fluffed his shot wide after Rooney squared him the ball and there were many half-chances in the first 15 minutes which were totally controlled by an impressive United.
Then we simply fell asleep, relaxed too early. The football became disjointed and lacked the rhytm and the pace which caused such serious problems for the visitors in the first half an hour. Credit to them they made us pay. They were reasonably confident in possession and though could not create chances, a well-executed set-piece and a sleeping home defence resulted in the equaliser.
O'Shea could have sent United back into the lead but fired straight at Zaza from a difficult angle but it would have been an undeserved lead as the quarter of an hour gone between the equaliser and the end of the half we were distinctly poor. Hurried passes, unimaginative hoofing and we gave the ball away with frustrating frequency. On one of these ocasions we were punished: Gibson gave the ball away and following a sweeping counter-attack Curth headed the ball into the far corner majestically, one of the best headed finishes I've seen for a long while.
Fergie must have been furious even though Celtic's 2-0 lead and one-man advantage over Villarreal meant that top spot of the group was virtually secured. The gaffer brought off the sadly ineffective Gibson and the tiring Giggs and introduced Ji-sung Park to give width and Scholes to provide some shape and rhytm to the midfield.
It worked well: the Ginger Ninja proved that on occasions like these he can still be the man. United started the second half with an urgency in their play but our passing was now controlled and it soon resulted in a great goal as Anderson's defence-splitting pass played in Rooney who made no mistake from 18 yards out.
We had much more width now that Nani and Park were roaming on the flanks even though the Portuguese got little support from Gary Neville. O'Shea, on the other hand, was always available and whipped in many crosses but unfortunately they were mostly of poor quality - we'll definitely miss Evra in attack during his four-game ban.
But it did not matter: Scholes and Rooney pinged majestic diagonal balls all over the place and Anderson was everywhere so United totally dominated the second half, it was, to some extent, like the Sunderland game. Yet we missed our chances, most notably Tevez and Gary Neville: the former shot into the side-netting after taking one touch too many while the latter was denied by a great save after latching onto a magnificent crossfield pass from Rooney.
But the Danish team held on and took a point which I do not begrudge: they played their part well in an entertaining game. For United, it means top spot and the prolonging of a great unbeaten record. If we avoid defeat in the first knockout round, away from home, then we'll be the new record holders. I don't know what you think but I have a soft spot for these kind of records so I'm looking forward to the chance of setting a new one.