CFR Cluj 1-3 Manchester United
After a bit of an off night against Spurs on Saturday, Robin van Persie was back to his bad self against the Romanian champions, CFR Cluj. Very much up against it to a loud, raucous partisan crowd imprisoned behind a thirty-foot high barrier of chicken wire to keep its massive enthusiasm from exploding, United did not disgrace themselves. Stuck in one of the poorest parts of Central Europe, Transylvanians don’t generally have much to cheer about aside from football and vampire tourism. And although their team took an early lead and got off to a flying start, they would soon regret the wishy-washy nine-men-behind-the-ball defensive tactics and the cautious nature of their coach, Ioan Andone. Indeed, on an evening when United’s defense was as about as resourceful as a blind-drunk diabetic, the pride of the Netherlands, who scored his seventh and eighth goals of the campaign, showing the kind of ruthlessness and resourcefulness that United so desperately needed. Indeed, despite a passive/aggressive display by his colleagues, most of whom distinctly lacked any sense of pizzazz or passion, RVP was willing to drive a stake through their hearts!
After winning two out of two in European Champion Cup play, United can afford to take a breather and count their blessings. Despite so many injuries to both the regular back four and their reserves, our defenders have so far hung in there enough to not lose big. Fortunately, Sir Alex Ferguson’s risky tar baby tactics were accompanied by the return of Wayne Rooney from injury. Played for the whole match as a central playmaker, the Scouser was brilliant, pinging balls hither and thither for Cleverley, Carrick, Anderson and Nani. Having been completely dependent upon the aging Ginger Prince, Paul Scholes, Ferguson’s wise decision to move Rooney out from his comfort zone as a striker, seems to have revitalized both the manager and the player.
Yet it all began badly. The stadium is a noisy cauldron and United’s attempt to keep the game narrow demanded the kind of discipline full backs Rafael and the now legless Evra had difficulty maintaining and concentrating upon. With Ferdinand and Evans slow to react to three swift Cluj counterattacks, a quick goal looked on the cards. Fourteen minutes in, their Senegalese winger, Modou Sougo, left Evra stranded twenty yards out before firing off a low cross for Kapetanos, who shrugged his way around Jonny Evans before firing past a stranded David De Gea, who had no chance.
The crowd at Dr Constantin Radulescu Stadium truly went collectively berserk, rocking the three-sided rumpus room as hundreds of delirious fans climbed the wire fences and let loose a barrage of flash photography from their camera phones. How disappointed they must have been at United’s equalizer in the 29th minute, but Cluj had nobody to blame but themselves.
Cluj had held the lead for 15 minutes when the speedy Javíer Hernandez won a free-kick after being fouled unnecessarily hard by the combative Aguirregera. Rooney stepped up to take a superb dipping free kick which found a bobbing, weaving Van Persie, whose attempt at a header bounced off the shoulder of defender Ion Sepsi before spinning over a diving Mario Felgueiras.
Ferguson made no changes for the second half, although the team showed the clench-jawed posture of a group who had just undergone a treatment from the Gaffer’s mythical hairdryer. Within four minutes they had the lead. Once again, it was Wayne Rooney. A colossus in midfield, so comfortable it seemed, it was almost like he’d always been there. Wazza’s clever dipping cross went over the head of the sprinting Portuguese goalkeeper, Felgueiras, leaving him marooned on the six-yard line. The clever Van Persie, right on the cusp of being in an offside position, let the goalie steam past him before steering a gently directed little hummingbird flick into the net to make it 2-1.
From then on, United asserted their dominance and exerted their will upon the Transylvanian team. Regularly hacked down by the thuggish likes of Bastos and Aguirregera, United were content to hold the ball for long periods and, for the very first time this season, control the tempo of the the game. De Gea, who had little to do for most of the game except maintain his concentration, found himself making two incredibly superb saves from Cadu and Bastos as the clock ticked down..
With two matches coming up against an only moderately talented Braga side from Portugal, United’s upcoming Champions Cup games all look promising. With an upcoming match against an excellent balanced Newcastle United at St. James. and our two center backs, Evans and Ferdinand. both hurting, the Gaffer’s leeway in the choice stakes is limited. Between Evans and Ferdinand and the two reserves, Scott Wootton and Michael Keane, Ferguson will probably opt for the old regulars, but his patience with both them and the fading skills of Patrice Evra up against the youth and finesse of young Alexander Büttner may run thin. A third loss was unthinkable at the beginning of the season, but fans are now taking stock of our current predicament and thinking realistically. Having beaten off the vampire contingent, we just need to make it through until January!