Wolfsburg 1-3 United - A Game Full Of Positives
United beat the German champions 3-1 away from home to secure top spot in the Group B of the Champions League. The victory is all the sweeter for the fact that of the nine defenders registered for the competition eight was unavailable through injury or illness.
Sir Alex made a bold move: he fielded an unbalanced, asymmetric formation. Most papers describe it as a 3-5-2 but that's not accurate enough: Park was a roving wingback on the right but Nani played in a more orthodox left midfield role so any attacks coming down the right flank were the responsibility of Evra who was a left-back and a left-sided centre-back at the same time... if that's possible.
The midfield three stayed deep all the time, with only one, usually either Gibson or Anderson, given the license to go forward at a time. The strikers, Welbeck and Owen, were constantly on the move, with both asked to help out on the right where Park was virtually on his own throughout.
And it worked. Granted, Wolfsburg took advantage of the shoddy positioning and lack of aerial ability of our centre-backs but they could not bury any but one of the free headers we allowed them. Otherwise Carrick and Fletcher performed admirably while Evra put in his usual shift - in other words, he was unbelievably brilliant, yet again.
Park looked a little tired by the second half and his thrusts upfield became less and less frequent which allowed Wolfsburg to seize control and start dominating possession but their efforts lacked verve and creativity even then. And they were downright dreadful in the first half: they were clearly taken aback by Ferguson's unexpected change in formation and, as an inexperienced team with a relatively inexperienced coach, they could not adapt their own game.
Still, Michael Owen's opening goal came out of the blue and it was a fine cross from the otherwise disappointing Nani. But as United kept the ball very well and played intelligently despite the crippling injury crisis, I would say our lead was not wholly undeserved.
Fergie must be lauded for his second-half substitutions: Welbeck, who unfortunately seemed to have the first touch of a camel again, and Nani were taken off just when Wolfsburg, having equalised through the impressive Dzeko, threatened to turn the game around as United grew a little tired. Valencia and Obertan - especially the latter - brought a new momentum with them. Park was protected better with Valencia ahead of him and with Owen's excellent movement up front we were always going to be threatening on the break.
At this point - before I start lauding Obertan - the performance of our goalkeeper must be acknowledged: Tomasz Kuszczak made several fine saves and was commanding and confident throughout. On current form, he's a better bet than Ben Foster.
Now, back to Obertan. He played a little under 20 minutes but he showed real promise. His first assist was simply delightful: he turned Ricardo Costa inside out, left another defender in his wake and sent a low, precise cross across the face of goal which Owen only had to turn into the empty net.
Wolfsburg could have equalised in the 90th minute but Riether missed the ball and the subsequent counterattack destroyed them: Scholes sprayed the ball out wide to Obertan who sent a beautifully weighted first-time pass into the path of Michael Owen and he did not miss, like he did a few minutes earlier when sent through by, if I recall correctly, Anderson.
And that was it. Wolfsburg are out of the Champions League and they can only blame themselves: they will never meet a side missing more key players in such an important game. For United, this was a game full of positives: the performances of Owen and Obertan, another magnificent, faultless display by Paul Scholes, industrious and efficient work by Anderson and Darron Gibson and of course the intelligent and efficient defensive work of Michael Carrick.
Top spot secured, looking forward to the draw, taking place next Friday. In the meantime we have every reason to be proud of this success and of yet another record beaten: we are unbeaten in 15 away games in the Champions League which tops Ajax's best run of 14 matches. Good job, lads.