Valencia Nets Another Winner
Is it time to start calling him Antonio Ronaldo? Not necessarily but Valencia scored for the second game in a row and his goals gave United the three points on both occasions. This time CSKA was the vanquished side, with the win virtually guaranteeing United's progression.
Not that it was a memorable evening otherwise. It was as dire as United's away games in the Champions League usually are: few chances, lots of scrapping in midfield. Of course we were not helped by the absence of Rooney, Giggs and Evra but we had seen earlier that their presence do not ensure quality football away from home.
At least we have dominated throughout: the unusual central midfield three of O'Shea, Scholes and Anderson ensured United had the majority of possession even though in the first half it was to no avail as we lacked creativity. The strategy seemed to be to get the ball to the wide areas quickly in the hope that Valencia and Nani (or Fabio who was handed his first Champions League start) might do something. They could not as they were hopelessly crowded out throughout. Berbatov was totally isolated up front.
Second half brought a little change: United exploited space in the middle a lot better and took total control. The concerted pressure brought the first real chance on 65 minutes (yes, it was that boring) when Nani's fine header was clawed away quite magnificently by Igor Akinfeev, a player constantly linked with United.
But we actually woke up only in the last 10 minutes - when the otherwise outstanding Scholes was already off the pitch, making way for Michael Owen who was very ineffective... - but that was more than enough to secure the win. Valencia could feel himself unlucky when a brilliant move, involving three one-twos, ended with him crashing a ferocious shot against the crossbar - it would have been a candidate for the greatest goal of the Champions League season.
Three minutes later he scored an excellent and deserved goal though: the otherwise very frustrating Nani's cross was headed into his path by Berbatov (who also came to life in the last 15 minutes) and Valencia steered the ball into the far corner from a difficult angle. His celebration was, once again, pretty low-key but it did not matter: job was done and it looks like that Valencia is settling, slowly but surely. I wish he would sometimes use his left foot though...
All in all, a very satisfactory evening. Wolfsburg drew at home with Besiktas, leaving United five points clear at the top of Group B. Another win against CSKA would almost certainly guarantee top spot in the group as well. It's hardly an impossible task: I had suggested that CSKA were the favourites for tonight's game but they were absolutely disappointing. They failed to ever really get a grip on the game - and they were dominated by a midfield containing John O'Shea, for heaven's sake!