Of the many things that Sir Alex Ferguson would have learnt about his team following their dismal draw with Scottish Champions Rangers, the most poignant might be how Manchester United appeared devoid of creative flair without Dimitar Berbatov.
The striker was left out of United’s squad for their opening Champions League group stage game against Walter Smith’s men after one of his finest performances in a red shirt against Everton in the Premier League on Saturday. United’s performance on Tuesday evening, while it will increase the pressure on them for their second group stage match,
which see’s them travel to Valencia, firmly highlighted the importance of the Bulgarian. It might have been a hard way to discover Berbatov’s importance to the United cause, but his absence in the final third was clear for all to see.
His three-year career at United has been littered with as many criticisms as superlatives. Mainly, supporters have been disappointed with the slow tempo of his play and furthermore when entrusted to lead the line during the end of the last season, in the wake of Wayne Rooney’s ankle injury, he failed to fill the boots of the England striker. It cost the club two trophies.
This season Berbatov has started like a man with a point to prove, with goals in three of United’s four league games this season. His composed finish against Newcastle United, his invention against West Ham United and his deftness of touch against Everton showed three different sides to the 29-year old that every United fan knew he had,
even if evidence of this had been infrequent since his move from Tottenham Hotsphur in 2008.
The proposition of breaking down a resolute Rangers defense on Tuesday evening would surely have provoked Berbatov into a vintage performance and at the very least given the United attack a cutting edge that deserted them throughout the 90 minutes.
Wayne Rooney, despite his thrilling displays for England last week still looks slightly off the pace, perhaps not helped by him being dropped for the league outing at Goodison Park at the weekend. Elsewhere, Patrice Evra’s penetrating left-wing runs were badly missed, while even Nani, whose top performances have been even rarer than Berbatov’s, would surely have brought something new to United’s tedious attacks.
Rightly so, the manager will take the brunt of the criticism for the result after selecting a mish-mash side against Rangers, and while he might maintain that he was justified in leaving Rooney out on Saturday, he will find it a tough ask to give good reason for not including Berbatov in mid-week. With a daunting trip to the Estadio Mestalla next up for United, it could be a decision that could come back to haunt the Scot.