Manchester United Analysis – Rangers stifle Champions League opener for weakened United

MANCHESTER UNITED 0

RANGERS 0

Manchester United and Rangers played out a far-from-entertaining opening game to their kick off their respective Champions League campaigns on Tuesday night.

Sir Alex Ferguson made 10 changes to the side that drew with Everton on Saturday, naming a weakened first XI, perhaps as a favour to his friend in the opposition dugout, Walter Smith.

The entire match was a dull affair overshadowed by a horrific injury to Antonio Valencia from an innocuous foul near the Stretford End. Despite being after the watershed, SKY refused to show replays of the incident, suggesting a sickening break.

As a contest, Rangers set up a bank of five defenders and four midfielders and frustrated an uncoordinated United side unable to test Allan McGregor in the Rangers goal. It was an opportunity to see some of the players looking to edge out those who Ferguson may deem responsible for the recent away-day collapses at Fulham and Everton.

As it was, few were able to make the most of the opportunity, coming up against a well-drilled Scottish unit, unable as a group to draw their opponents to attack more and hit them on the break, or to make the most of any set-piece opportunities.

Certainly the most promising aspect is an emerging partnership between Rooney and Javier Hernandez, the Mexican quick on the turn, lively to link up and with a good leap despite his frame. The No 14’s play with Rooney echoes a similar partnership the England forward enjoyed briefly in 2008-09 with Carlos Tevez. Various media outlets place Rooney as favouring a targetman style strike partner, but as Tevez and now Hernandez are showing, a quick mind stands as good a chance at striking up an understanding with the No 10.

Chris Smalling got a taste of Champions League football under his belt as part of his assimilation through the ranks at Old Trafford whilst the game also welcomed back Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown from long-term injuries, with Anderson on the bench too.

Darron Gibson is one of the other players who will be eager to break through into the first team this season and again last night reminded everyone of his ability with an assured performance. Last term he made some telling contributions in games, including the Champions League, and it would be interesting to see how he would fare in a starting XI alongside the other first-teamers.

Overall, Ferguson prioritised the weekend’s league game with Liverpool as the team look to get their Premier League campaign back on track. A home draw is not a disaster, but certainly a disappointment, and places extra emphasis on picking up a similar result at Ibrox and three points in Turkey against unknown quantity Bursaspor.

Starting XI

29 Kuszczak

6 Brown – 5 Ferdinand – 12 Smalling – 20 F. da Silva

25 Valencia – 24 Fletcher – 28 Gibson – 13 Park

10 Rooney – 14 Hernandez

Substitutions

63 – 11 Giggs on for 25 Valencia
75 – 23 J. Evans on for F. da Silva
7 Owen on for 13 Park

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