Not a bad result, to be sure, especially if you’re part of the “wouldn’t you have gladly settled for a draw?” crowd. After all, United are still top of their Champions League group. Sociedad ground out an ugly draw and the rest is conjecture. Had the red devils scored from Robin Van Persie’s missed penalty after yet another sleazy dive from Ashley Young, fans might have kinda/sorta felt bad about it, but the three points would have taken the club into the next round. Indeed, there was a lack of both moxy and luck on the night. Gaping sitters were missed by Van Persie (twice). Rooney (twice) and Hernandez (thrice), Young and Valencia. After winning at Old Trafford via an early Inigo Martínez own goal in the first dull battle between the two teams two weeks ago and Shakhtar Donetsk and Bayer Leverküsen also playing to a draw, United could rue their squandering of at last a dozen missed chances to reach the last 16.
Ashley Young has finally used up his last ounce of personal respect and forgiveness from fans after one dive too many. Having ignored the remonstrations of at least a half-dozen quality coaches over the years, it’s time for David Moyes to rip off the red shirt he disgraces and encourage him and his agent to ply their trade elsewhere. And for those of you out there who think he’s no better or worse than the likes of Sergío Busquets or Luís Suarez, please point out exactly what he’s done for his team over the last two years. The fact is that the incredibly arrogant and selfish Young brings more unnecessary and unwanted scrutiny Manchester United do not need.
It was a poor a first half. Only Kagawa really stood out early on for United. Playing on the left wing is not exactly an ideal showcase for him to show off his considerable skill set, but he was nevertheless the only visiting player who truly troubled Sociedad’s anemic defense. Kagawa linked well with Patrice Evra, and the French left back, mostly untroubled by Pardo or Prieto, did well to set up number of slick combinations with his temporary partner. Indeed, after a flick from Rooney, Evra’s screen presented fast-footed Shinji with a delicious chance. Unfortunately, his low shot flew wide of Claudio Bravo’s goal. Minutes later Kagawa turned provider when he beat Carlos Martínez to the byline and fired a very precise cross towards Hernández at the near post that Inigo Martínez intercepted. Minutes later, alone, unmarked and only six steps from the goal line, Hernandez smashed the ball over the bar after a perfect Valencia set-up. For all of United’s ability to control the the game in the first half, those attempts and a couple of weak efforts from Rooney proved to be the sum total of their somewhat indifferent threat .
Clearly chewed out by their boss Jagoba Arrasate in the dressing room, Sociedad were far less subdued in the second half. Miguel Vela, once the pearl of Arsenal’s academy, gave center-back Rio Ferdinad much trouble. Released by Inígo Martínez, Vela nipped in behind Evra but was exquisitely dispossessed inside the area by a Nemanja Vidic tackle as he waited in vain for support from Agirretxe. Alberto de la Bella also went close after fooling Antonio Valencia on the left, but his shot was beautifully saved by De Gea.
United improved a lot after Van Persie and Young came on for a tired-looking Rooney and Hernandez in the 63rd minute, allowing Kagawa to move into a more central position. The Dutchman hit the post almost as soon as he came onto the pitch after receiving an Ashley Young cross. Only minutes later, Van Persie hit the same section of goalpost from the penalty spot after Young recycled his infamous diving swan act after a bit of glancing contact with Bergara directly in front of the referee, Nicola Rizzoli.
Ultimately, United really were indeed their own worst enemies. Beyond Young’s unseemly behavior was the red card United’s central stalwart Marouane Fellaini received in injury-time. Although he’s still settling in at United and having difficulties with his passing game, the big Belgian played the Basque team tough, putting in his share of rough borderline tackles and body blocks. Booked early for a so-so challenge on Markel Bergara, Fellaini received repeated verbal warnings from a reasonable Rizzoli. Fortunate not to get sent off earlier, Fellaini took his lumps late. There is no doubt that Moyes loves his new, expensive guard dog simply because United are distinctly lacking in aggression when he’s not placing. Having received a red card for a foul on David Zurutuza, though, Fellainii will definite be missed in their next ECC match against the bigger, brawnier Bayer Leverküsen. With Phil Jones dressed and ready to play, the question really does need to asked: Why Moyes didn’t substitute him much earlier? It’s beyond me.
The game against Arsenal at Old Trafford looms large on Sunday. Can our weak midfield cope? Arsenal are in a rich vein of form right now, having only lost their opening match of the season To Aston Villa in August. Always psychologically fragile, however, they will be counting on overrunning the least talented midfield United have put out in two decaclose tyodes. The situation is serious, but not hopeless. A quarter of the season in, Moyes owes it to the fans that the team be better prepared than they were on Tuesday night.