Ten Minutes Of Football From United
This is officially the most frustrating United side ever. We had crap teams, outstanding teams, hard teams, soft teams but this one is so frustrating it's unbelievable. Yet again, our players failed to grasp the concept of the kickoff and acted as if they had not realised the game was under way until the 80th minute and therefore only just managed to salvage a point against CSKA Moscow at Old Trafford.
Fergie opted for a partnership of Macheda and Owen up front and they looked dangerous but the service from midfield was so conspicously horrible that they were starved of chances. OK, Fletcher has the excuse of being a little rusty (and he was our best midfielder). OK, they doubled up on Antonio Valencia. But Paul Scholes should have enjoyed this one as in the first 30 minutes he had plenty of space to pass the ball yet his slowness prevented him of exerting any authority. Nani was just crap, as usual. I'm running out of excuses for him.
It was a tentative sort of start to the game but United had the upper hand, created a few chances and it looked like it would be one of those workmanlike routine wins we have come to expect recently. But an excellent finish by Dzagoev changed the complexion of the game - and though Owen conjured up a smart goal, our horrible defending quickly allowed CSKA to take the lead again. Offside trap? Nowhere to be seen tonight.
United, as per usual, struggled to get going, to increase the tempo. But that's liable to happen when the man in charge for that is so slow himself that he's in danger of being passed by patient tortoises. Maybe I'm being harsh on Paul Scholes who at least passed the ball well compared to his teammates but with him pulling the strings we can't expect to lay onslaught to the opposing goal.
But the introduction of Rooney could and should have changed that: finally, there was a man who was capable of changing a game. Yet it seems that becoming a father has taken its toll on Wayne (and he was marked with a cruel determination) and he was subdued. Macheda, who was our most impressive player in the first half, was a little less efficient after switched on to the left even though Evra's introduction in place of the hapless Fabio (he was awful tonight) provided him with better assistance than what Nani ever enjoyed.
But the truth is that United could not be bothered to be in a hurry. We were content in getting the ball out wide quickly and pump in crosses which were ineffective. Gary Neville tried and tried but his crossing was awful, Valencia tried and tried but he was marked out of the game and we simply did not have the nous or the patience to attempt to break them down through the middle, to play one-twos, to try drawing their defenders out of position.
As we were nearing the 80 minute mark it seems like something was switched on in the players' head. I have to say that Obertan's introduction had a positive effect even though it was a surprise to see Macheda coming off and Owen, who was totally ineffective in the second half, staying on but I assume Fergie's reasoning was that Owen's experience and nerves make him a better bet in such a situation.
But finally there was some urgency in our play: right before Obertan's introduction Macheda hit the post with a header, the absolutely outstanding Akinfeev twice saved from Rooney and he kept out a good Owen header as well. But there was no stopping Scholes' header - it vindicated Fergie's decision to leave him on even though I must admit I had been screaming for Anderson for a while by that point - and in extra time Valencia's deflected shot found its way into the net.
There were a couple of goalmouth scrambles after that and a red card for the Russians but we could not win the game and we were all left wondering what could have been if the team had started playing football ten minutes earlier. Or, God forbid, 80 minutes earlier. You know, right from the kickoff. And even though we should have had a penalty (how that could have been mistaken for a dive I'll never know, no wonder Fletcher was astonished and raging) and Aldonin should never have escaped red after planting his studs on Scholes' knee, we wouldn't have deserved to win this. Fergie will talk about the referee but the wider point here is that even Manchester United cannot afford to underestimate their opponents.