Owen's Injury Solved United's Problems
United deservedly beat German champions Wolfsburg 2-1 at Old Trafford but for 20 minutes it looked like we were going to be forced to play with only 10 men on the field. Yes, Michael Owen was that poor.
His inclusion was a big surprise: after all, he had not even trained before the game because of a groin problem. Ji-sung Park, another one who had missed training, did not even make the bench. But Owen was in, ahead of Dimitar Berbatov who, despite all the ridiculous criticism he always gets, has been excellent this season.
Starting Owen instead of Berbatov did not work at Burnley, resulting in United's worst display of the season and it certainly did not work tonight as we were not able to put together a decent attack as Owen was simply invisible. He, predictably, quickly aggravated his groin injury though so was hauled off with only 20 minutes gone to make way for Berbatov.
United clicked into gear and Berbatov handed out two gorgeous passes to Valencia and Carrick but both midfielders missed the sitters while Rooney passed the ball meekly into Benaglio's hands after a brilliant move featuring backheels by Valencia and Berbatov. We also should have had a penalty when Valencia's cross hit a Wolfsburg defender's outstretched arm - referee waved play on.
Michael Carrick passed the ball well, for just about the first time this season, but his partner Anderson was wayward again, seeing plenty of the ball but giving it away much too much. Ryan Giggs was nowhere near his imperious self but the contributions of Rooney, Berbatov and Carrick ensured United dominated the second half of the first half.
The second half itself, however, saw a lacklustre United coming on the pitch, again and Wolfsburg had the better of the opening exchanges even though Anderson really should have scored after being put through by Rooney. Berbatov withdrew into his shell a little and at the back we just about forgot to mark Dzeko who headed home from 10 yards in the 56th minute.
The goal woke up our slumbering troops and United immediately exerted some pressure. Josué (I think) gave away a free-kick on the edge of the area which Giggs volunteered to take (big surprise). It was going wide but a wicked deflection sent it into the back of the net and our legendary Welshman could celebrate his 150th United goal.
United were back in control, playing some decent stuff and Vidic miskicked after Valencia's fine cross, thus spurning a golden chance to put us ahead. Rooney should have scored with a curling effort from the edge of the area. But when the goal finally arrived, it was wonderful.
Rooney's fine cross found Berbatov inside the box, who pulled it back for Giggs. Giggs laid it on a plate for Carrick who curled it in from 18 yards - magnificent goal and Carrick very much deserved it.
Anderson should have embellished the scoreline - his performance was a lot better in the second half - after Berbatov put him through with a header but his first touch was awful and allowed Benaglio to smother the ball. Josue had a chance as well but he fired wide from 18 yards.
And that was it. United deserved to win but sometimes you felt they lacked the concentration which is absolutely vital in Europe. We should have won a lot more comfortably but missed the biggest chances; and starting Michael Owen against any half-decent team seems like a bad idea as he contributes nothing to the football, he's just waiting for chances to go his way. We cannot afford that, especially with Berbatov creating chances as if they were going out of fashion. If Fergie wants to rest him, either Welbeck or Macheda is a better option than Owen, in my humble opinion.
But in the meantime, we're top of the Premier League and of our Champions League group as well. CSKA away coming up next in the quest for Ol' Big Ears but that's three weeks away.