|Picture courtesy of Sky Sports|
Manchester United left it late once again as they finally broke down a resilient Rangers side to progress from Group C of the Champions League.
Wayne Rooney’s return to Manchester United’s starting eleven was always going to make the headlines and it was the Englishman who settled the tie, firing a penalty home in the last five minutes to give Sir Alex Ferguson’s side the victory.
United had been frustrated by Walter Smith’s men throughout the match as the Scottish side set up in a defensive 5-4-1 formation, with in-form Kenny Miller given the role of the lone striker. Despite their protective formation, Rangers did attack well, especially on the counter, with Steven Davis and Richard Foster acting as wing backs, tracking the runs of United’s wingers and attacking full-backs.
Dimitar Berbatov was given the nod ahead of the Mexican striker Javier Hernandez to start up front with Rooney. The Bulgarian struggled to create much in the game, apart from an early penalty claim which was harshly turned down, and Rooney wasn’t having any more luck in a match which was controlled in midfield.
Carrick: main man
Michael Carrick has been slightly out of form recently but the former Tottenham midfielder was the main man at Ibrox, along with his midfield partner Paul Scholes. Carrick attempted 118 passes in the match, of which he successfully completed 107 (shown right). The centre of midfield was clearly the vocal point of United’s team, with Scholes also spraying the ball out to both flanks with supreme accuracy, which helped Fabio and John O’Shea to advance forward.
The Brazilian full-back, particularly, attacked very well down the left-hand side with Ryan Giggs in front of him; the Welshman, like Rooney, returned to United’s side after a considerable lay-off.
Down the right-hand side, Ferguson chose to play O’Shea behind the ever-flamboyant Nani, who went down looking for a penalty not long after Berbatov had been denied what was clearly a foul on the striker. Nani, though, then hit the floor with minimal contact and was rightly told to get up.
The majority of United’s play was found down the left-hand side through Fabio and skipper Giggs, with Berbatov the first to almost benefit as his header was saved comfortably by Allan McGregor.
The game, though, was certainly not all about United. Miller, who took his goal tally to eighteen at the weekend as the striker scored a hat-trick against Kilmarnock in a 3-2 away victory, should have done better after fifteen minutes when he headed wide from inside the area. Miller went close again later on from a tight angle after good build-up play, though the forward would have done well to convert with Edwin Van der Sar saving well in what was a quiet match for the Dutch goalkeeper.
McGregor also had a calm game in the Rangers goal and that was mainly due to the inability of United to break down the Rangers back line, and even when they did break them down, United’s finishing was poor. Rooney, in particular, missed two decent chances in the first half, the best of which crashed against the crossbar five minutes before the break.
Rooney’s striking partner, Berbatov, has been criticised in recent years for his attitude and work rate, and the Bulgarian didn’t do anything to put a halt to this criticism last night, putting in a lacklustre performance in which his passing and first touch were generally poor. That hat-trick against Liverpool seems a long time ago. Despite that, the service to the strikers, from Nani in particular, was very poor in the final third.
Nani’s passing in final third was poor
although strikers are as much to blame as he is
That is only half the story, however, as 40-year-old David Weir put in a sterling performance at the back alongside Kirk Broadfoot and Steven Whittaker, both of whom could not be faulted.
Although Rangers had had the best chance in the first half, through Miller, it was United who looked the more likely to score, and it was the main man Carrick who had the first big opportunity of the match. Rooney and Berbatov linked up well to put Carrick through on goal with plenty of room, but the midfielder was thwarted by the advancing McGregor.
The centre of United’s midfield was clearly the vocal point,
although Steven Davis and Steven Naismith
had a lot of influence in the game.
The midfield of Rangers was forced to take something of a backseat as they could only watch as Scholes and Carrick ran the show, but Steven Naismith capitalised on a rare defensive mix-up for United, Van der Sar had to recover well as Naismith nipped in to get a toe on a pass which Evans naively misjudged.
Ferguson changed his side’s set-up somewhat with the introduction of Brazilian midfielder Anderson, coming on Scholes, who may have been struggling with an injury as he left the field with twenty-five minutes to go.
With the minutes ticking by, United began to push for that elusive winner further and even began to get desperate. In the space of five minutes Rooney blasted over from thirty yards, headed wide from inside the area and miscued a volley from the penalty spot.
Ferguson clearly saw the need for change with fifteen minutes to go and the Scot, who starred for Rangers in his playing days, brought Hernandez on for the uninspiring Berbatov, although ‘Chicharito’ failed to really impose himself on the match. Nani was also hauled off by Ferguson as French winger Gabriel Obertan attempted to give United some fresh legs down the right-hand side.
Over a month ago Rangers succeeded in holding United to a 0-0 draw and the Scottish side, who have never beaten Manchester United, looked set to gain another valuable point in the Champions League.
A clumsy foul from Naismith gave Rooney the chance to announce his return to the United side. Fabio darted down the left and found himself in the penalty area, only to be clattered by Naismith as the full-back attempted to play the ball across goal. The penalty was duly awarded, courtesy of the assistant referee on the by-line, and Rooney dispatched with such ease as if he’d never been away.