Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Aalborg v Manchester United, September 30, CL

There may not be many whipping boys around in this Champions' League, what with the impressive performances seen from Cluj and BATE, but Aalborg played this one as if they thought they would get whipped.

They would have been too had the Red Devils shown the desire for a demolition rather than use this as a practice session to build up confidence and get match fitness. In any case, when the final whistle blew, the defending champions were ahead by three goals without reply and it was a very well deserved win.

It was not as if Aalborg did not try to play. They did try and get some moves going buy they had no clue what to do with the ball once they reached the final third. Their defence, led by a very spirited first half goalkeeping performance by Zaza, was not in shambles, but was stretched and error prone. In all it was a performance that betrayed a complete lack of belief and for it to come in front of the home crowd, does not bode well for the Danish club.

For Manchester United, it's three points in the bag and three players in the infirmary. Scholes, Rooney and the delightful Brazilian right back Rafael all had to be substituted before the 70th minute and the loss of the first two will be a blow for them as they look to climb up the Premiership table. Other points of interest were the performance of Rafael and the first goals in red for Dimitar Berbatov.

The Manchester United think tank had obviously not over estimated the threat posed by Aalborg and started with Tevez on the bench as well as Wes Brown, allowing match time to Rafael and the not-too-in-form Berbatov or still-recovering Ronaldo. They eased into the passing and attacking routine quickly and should have gone ahead soon enough, only for Berbatov to shoot over when he should have scored with eyes closed.

It was the injury to Scholes, that brought in Ryan Giggs in central midfield and he played a superb pass to Rooney in the box which was finished well by the England striker. Rio Ferdinand's role in the build up to the first goal should be mentioned, for it was he who shrugged aside an opponent, carried the ball into the Aalborg half before handing the ball to Nani who played it to Giggs in the hole behind the strikerr.

The second goal was a howler from an Aalborg defender, who literally set it up for Berbatov to shoot into the net with the goalkeeper out of position, and the third was good work from Ronaldo from the right to set up Berbatov at six yards and Berba finished spectacularly a chance that was tougher than some of the others he had in the game.

Rafael the young right back entertained with his skills and showed great attacking drive. He was very involved in the game and showed great positional sense though his defensive skills did get expose once. May not yet be ready for starts in the premiership but not far away from it either.

Berbatov's two goals would give the impression that he is back to where he should be, but I feel he is still far from it. Against better defending both those chances may have been unlikely and the other elements of his game like the first touch and passing are no where near his Spurs days. He could of course, look to play as a poacher with the support cast that he has, but we all know that there are other aspects to his game as well and it would be great if he can show more of his old form.

The Ronaldo rehabilitation continues and he did seem to improve even as the minutes passed, but he too is a few steps away from his peak. Expect this Manchester United team to look more dangerous sometime soon. Even with players injured, they still have Hargreaves, Anderson, Tevez, Park and others to call on, so it is only a matter of time for them. What did rankle about their performance was the lack of intensity and an appearance that bordered close on disinterest. Even at one nil up they seemed to be focusing on experimentation and allowing their off form players to excel rather than going for the kill. The goal celebrations were definitely muted, almost like something seemed to be at the back of their minds.

But then they have Sir Alex. If it needs fixing, think he will do it.

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