Manchester United came back from 3-1 down against CSKA Moscow in an entertaining match at Old Trafford to gain a point and qualification for the knock-out stage of the Champions League.
The opening exchanges of this game saw both sides looking dangerous going forward while also being vulnerable in defence. Michael Owen could have scored twice and Federico Macheda – starting his first Champions League game – also went close, but it was the Russians who opened the scoring on 25. The impressive Alan Dzagoev looked to have been forced too wide by the pace of Jonny Evans, but he unleashed a powerful drive that left Edwin Van der Sar flailing at thin air. It did not take long, however, for United to get back into the game – on 29 minutes Owen swivelled to score from close-range after Nani’s clever flick had diverted an Antonio Valencia’s right-wing cross into his path. Less than two minutes later CSKA regained the lead, once again carving open United’s backline for Milos Krasic to round the keeper and score.
One might have expected the United players to start the second half strongly following a Fergie half-time rollicking, however only two minutes in they failed to deal with a routine free-kick delivery, allowing the unmarked Vasili Berezutsky to head in at the far post and put CSKA 3-1 up. Darren Fletcher should have been awarded a penalty soon after but was instead booked for diving, a decision Ferguson described as “the worst I have seen in my lifetime”. Wayne Rooney’s introduction injected some much-needed zest into United’s attack, however it was not until 84 that the Reds pulled a goal back – Paul Scholes rolling back the years with an excellent header from a Gary Neville free-kick. United continued to press and deep into stoppage time they got their deserved reward when Valencia’s long-range effort was deflected fortuitously by Georgi Schennikov into his own net to make it 3-3.
Alex Ferguson: “We should have been four up before they even had a strike on goal. We made a lot of chances and we deserved the point because we kept on going. Their goalkeeper made some fantastic saves but we lost three goals at home and you don’t like that.”
Leonid Slutski: “Rooney is one of the best players in the world. He has a high level of skill as well as aggression. He made a difference as I thought United were moderate before he came on.”
For CSKA and their new manager, Leonid Slutski, this must have been a very encouraging performance, especially given the tepidity of their display in the 1-0 defeat in the reverse fixture under Juande Ramos. Although they were not facing United’s strongest side, a point at Old Trafford is an excellent return, and they were only a couple of minutes from an unlikely victory which would have made them the first away team to win at Old Trafford in 22 European games. Ferguson, on the other hand, will be disappointed with his side. Although they displayed excellent character in coming back from two goals down, the manager will be more preoccupied with why they found themselves in that position in the first place. Ferguson stated recently that he would have absolutely no worries about starting with Brown and Evans at centre-back against Chelsea on Sunday, but this performance may have changed his opinion after both were given the run around by the Moscow forwards Dzagoev and Tomas Necid. This was the first time in 30 Champions League games that United have conceded three, but would they have done so with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand in the side?
Just as worrying for the United manager should be his side’s inability to take their chances. Their defensive failures would not have been such an issue had United’s forward line been able to put the ball in the back of the net, with Michael Owen in particular guilty of wasteful finishing. Owen had two gilt-edged chances with the score at 0-0 and Fletcher and Macheda also missed when they would have been expected to score. Although they looked good going forward, Moscow were poor at the back and their inability to defend from crosses should have been punished sooner. Had Cristiano Ronaldo been on the pitch then United may well have been out of sight by half-time. With the Portuguese gone, however, United look a different side. Nani was once again ineffectual on the left wing, and while the improving Valencia delivered some dangerous crosses, he does not seem to possess the ability to take on and beat his opponent regularly in the way that Ronaldo did. One man who does seem determined to make up for Ronaldo’s departure is Wayne Rooney. The striker was left on the bench after the birth of his child earlier in the day, however circumstances called for his introduction after 58 minutes. Rooney injected some much needed zest into United’s performance and was the catalyst for a final half-hour of unrelenting attack. Only the intervention of Igor Akinfeev, an excellent performer in the Moscow goal, prevented him from scoring.
A draw is this fixture was enough for United to qualify from the Champions League group stage, although a win would have left them needing only a win against Besiktas to guarantee first place. As it stands, they will need to beat Besiktas then avoid defeat away at Wolfsburg in the final game.
Manchester United 3-3 CSKA Moscow – Owen 29, Scholes 84, Schennikov (og) 90+3 – Dzagoev 25, Krasic 31, V Berezutsky 47
Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar – Neville, Brown, Evans, Fabio Da Silva (Evra 59) – Valencia, Scholes, Fletcher, Nani (Rooney 58) – Owen, Macheda (Obertan 82)
CSKA Moscow (4-4-2): Akinfeev – A Berezutski, V Berezutski, Ignashevich, Schennikov – Krasic, Semberas, Aldonin, Mamaev (Rahimic 72) – Dzagoev (Carvalho 72), Necid (Piliev 90)
Man Utd – CSKA
4 – Corners – 0
20 (13) – Shots (on target) – 13 (4)
17 – Fouls – 13
3 (0) – Yellow cards (Red) – 4 (1)
5 – Offside – 0