MANCHESTER UNITED 1
In gaining their first win in Spain since 2002, Manchester United showed the strength-in-depth of their attacking talent. With Wayne Rooney missing through an ankle injury the burden of leading the line was left to Dimitar Berbatov – a task which the Bulgarian performed adeptly.
Berbatov was the brightest player in the opening stages of the match as he was a constant option for any United player in possession of the ball. Performing as a lone striker the former Tottenham Hotspur man was unable to drop deep in his customary fashion, instead pulling into wide areas. This enabled Anderson – playing in a more forward role – to get into some good positions in front of the Valencia defence. When occupying wide areas Berbatov not only created space in behind himself, he was also able to bring the ball under his mesmeric control and affect the play. United looked extremely dangerous when Berbatov was able to bring the ball inside on his own or when he was able to nonchalantly flick inside to the likes of Nani. If Berbatov and United had been able to maintain this early start they may have been able to gain the win much earlier than they did.
With Valencia coming back into the game and testing the United back-line Berbatov was more of a spectator towards the end of the first-half. However with increased confidence from the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in the early stages of the second, shoring up the defence, United were able to again pose an attacking threat. This is where Berbatov came into his own. In pulling down a long ball and attacking the Valencia defence on a solo run Berbatov showed his growing confidence and ability to play the lone striker’s role. Albeit quiet at times, the Bulgarian was able to put in the kind of performance that ranks alongside his effort at Goodison Park and was a perfect example of how to lead the line in a vital Champions League encounter.
Berbatov may have been one of the star men but most of the plaudits will be heaped on the shoulders of Javier Hernandez. The young Mexican may have been overlooked of late but when pushed to the fore from the bench Hernandez did not disappoint. The touch and finish was reminiscent of his fantastic last season for previous club Chivas and showed a confidence and ability not always associated with fringe players. This is where the real attacking depth of Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad exists. The Scot was able to rely on Michael Owen to equalise in Sunday’s match whereas the United boss this time overlooked Owen for his young Mexican starlet, proving a masterstroke. Federico Macheda was again involved and made an impact as he has done in recent games when United have been chasing a goal.
This, alongside the return of Ferdinand – culminating in United’s first away clean sheet of the season – is what will have pleased Ferguson most. In the wake of Rooney’s loss of fitness and form the United boss knows he has a group of strikers he can trust. With a return to the type of result which is expected from this United side it will be hoped this can act as the springboard for both a successful Champions League and Premier League campaign.
1 van der Sar
21 Rafael da Silva – 5 Ferdinand – 15 Vidic – 3 Evra
17 Nani – 24 Fletcher – 16 Carrick – 13 Ji-Sung Park
77 – 14 Hernandez on for 8 Anderson
85 – 27 Macheda on for 9 Berbatov
92 – 22 O’Shea on for 21 Rafael da Silva