M a nchester United 1-0 G a l a t a s a r a y
Once again, an extremely jammy Manchester United survived yet another nervy affair at Old Trafford. Thanks to a gutsy goal from Michael Carrick, who enjoyed his best game in a reds’ kit in at least five seasons, United defeated an extremely unlucky Galatasaray side and narrowly missed sharing the top spot in Group G with CFR Cluj who beat Sporting Braga 2-0 away from home.
Despite rewarding Sir Alex Ferguson with a 100th career win in European competition,United were consistently poor throughout. Indeed, although the Gaffer had promised a renewed sense of commitment and focus in the days preceding the match, it was nowhere to be seen on the night. Both Shinji Kagawa and a tired-looking Paul Scholes had difficulty keeping the ball and distributing it in midfield. Only Michael Carrick, who, thus far this season has been numbingly disappointing in Premier League matches and markedly reluctant to commit to the physical side of the game, played well throughout. Always buoyed by ECC refereeing, the Geordie midfielder was in his Pirloesque element, spraying accurate passes hither and thither, surprisingly willing to put his body into situations he usually shies away from. Meanwhile, starved for service throughout, Robin Van Persie never quite got his usual slick periphery-of-the-box-type game going. On the few occasions when he did get some apt service from Carrick, Nani or Valencia, the elegant Dutch striker tried too hard and was repeatedly dispossessed of the ball by Felipe Mello and some hideously bad snap passing.
Galatasaray played like a team from the get-go. And although United’s wingers. Valencia and Nani, gave them a lot of trouble, neither one seemed capable of executing the necessary final killer pass or shot. Well prepared by coach Fatih Terim, Gala’s defense, particularly their Uruguayan international goalkeeper, Fernando Muslera, repeatedly managed to bend without breaking, repeatedly adjusting their tactics to counter United’s fast transition game. There were a number of edgy moments in the game, the biggest barely thirty seconds in as center back Nemanja Vidic mistimed his tackle in the box, failing to reach the ball before upending the Turkish club’s striker, Umut Bulup. Perhaps still shaking off the mental cobwebs at the beginning of the match, the referee, Wolfgang Stark definitely gave United a break. To add insult to injury. Bulup was hobbled by Vidic’s tackle which led to his substitution for the Swedish, former Bolton Wanderers striker. Johann Elmander.
Seconds later, Muslera sprinted off his line to deny a wincing Nani as the Portuguese teed up to score. But he had no luck with United’s next attack in the seventh minute as Michael Carrick traded passes with Kagawa and then Robin Van Persie in a lovely double give-and-go before attempting to swerve around Muslera to fire home. With no choice but to trip. the sleek Geordie, Muslera careened into Carrick. Then, in spite of what would have led to the referee, Wolfgang Stark, blowing for a penalty and a red card for the keeper, Carrick regrouped from his fall, launched his body up ward and fired a left-footed beauty home to give United the lead.
Little did United’s fans at home and throughout the world realize that their team’s finest moments had already been and gone. From then on, as in every other game this season, United kept giving the ball away and gifting the Turkish champs chance after chance.
From then on, United repeatedly rode their collective luck. One gobsmacker saw a horrifically bad Paul Scholes pass allow the superb Nordin Amrabat to steal the ball, before leading a cavalry charge of a fast break before firing a rocket past David De Gea which ricocheted off the crossbar back into the goalie’s arms. Then United’s old nemesis from Bayern Munich days, Hamit Altintop, fired an exquisite curving shot which just touched the left post, probably a centimeter short of scoring. In the second half, it was more of the same as De Gea had no chance as Selcuk’s header of an Altintop cross had him clawing at air, but again hit the post. Then,with United looking tired and passive, as Gala’s confidence began to peak, the Spanish goalkeeper made a couple of consecutive, jaw-dropping saves. The first a tip over the bar after an absolute pile driver from Barak Yilmaz and the second one an even harder shot from Emre Colak
Meanwhile, Nani should have nailed United’s victory down with a penalty after Rafael was pulled down in Gala’s penalty box after executing an exquisite dribble past three frozen defenders. How Nani hit the ball so softly and sweetly into the waiting hands of the goalie is beyond comprehension. Why the unstable, eccentric, albeit clearly talented Cape Verdean winger was allowed to take the penalty in the first place, is beyond anyone’s ken. Somehow United have already botched four penalties this season, the same number missed all of last season! Wayne Rooney in the match against Fulham, Robin Van Persie in the Southampton gain, Chicharito versus Wigan, and now Nani. Asked about the problem after the game, Ferguson could only bring himself to mumble something vague about Van Persie being allotted official duties. Clearly, if this is so, Nani has been doubly presumptuous and will indeed feel the sting of the legendary Govan hairdryer.
Late in the match United finally had a run of luck in attack, but substitute striker Javier Hernandez twice failed to finish sitters set up by Luís Antonio Valencía passes. And Valencia, too tentative early in the game,was transformed later on, taking the aggressive approach and losing out to the hypocritical German’s referee’s ironic sensibilities when he refused to blow for a penalty after Danny Nunkeu tripped the gifted Ecuadorian winger just inside the box.
In the end,United were fortunate enough to steal a win. It was also a happy day for Scotland’s skipper and Ferguson sentimental old favorite Darren Fletcher. Sidelined for almost a year with ulcerative colitis, and forced to face up to fears that his career was over, blessed Darreninho was gifted a huge, two minute ovation from the crowd as he stepped out onto the Theater of Dreams. And although it would be a stretch to refer to the Scottish midfielder as a world-class performer, the energy, diligence and attitude he displays in midfield has been sorely missed by the club. Fletcher received a huge ovation and, even if he’s only 50% as good as he once was, the energy he provides in central midfield will be desperately needed over the coming months.