Normal service finally seems to have resumed within the Manchester United camp. A solid defensive performance was no surprise on seeing the colossal duo of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand being reunited in a previously sieve-like back four Add that to the excitingly efficient youth in the squad (particularly Javier Hernandez, Rafael and Macheda) who stepped up when required last night, we are seeing the typical habits of the Manchester club. Stutter through August and click into gear by October. This time though, it took the first competitive goal of Javier Hernandez who is set to bring joy to the global United fan base for seasons to come.
The overwhelming importance of having a watertight defence cannot be stressed out enough for United. Averaging 2.5 goals per game so far this season, this would usually suffice but injuries to key defenders such as Wes Brown and the aforementioned Ferdinand have rendered the Manchester United defence suspect to leaking soft goals, statistically speaking conceding a goal a game this term. Ferdinand is as important to this team as any of the attacking players who have been earning the plaudits. His return has outlined yet again that great teams simply must be built on just as great defences. The combination of Ferdinand and Vidic have proved to be an extremely successful foundation to United and last season when Rio was sorely missed, it was portrayed in their unimpressive trophy haul. As Manchester United were famished of possession for periods of the game and sometimes carelessly returning the ball, it was up to the concentration and perseverance of Rafael, Rio, Nemanja and Patrice to ensure they wouldn’t concede once more and it really showed how they simply had to go back to basics to claim a much needed clean sheet. Apart from one unconvincing dart out of goal from Edwin Van Der Sar where Soldado profligately missed, they just never looked like letting in a goal.
The glaring absence of a wealth of classy midfielders showed up for United as Anderson who is lacking match fitness and sharpness and the inept Michael Carrick partnered the less formidable than usual Darren Fletcher. Not to mention Ji-Sung Park who possibly played his worst ever game for them last night. Pablo Hernandez and co. overran United as the likes of Scholes, Giggs and Valencia were missed hugely. Nani blew hot and cold throughout the game as his theatrics put a shadow over his sometimes clever interchanges with Rafael down the right. Dimitar Berbatov was isolated to a great extent up front on his own, manufacturing two chances in each half. The first of which where he outmaneuvered several Los Che players before curling a 30 yard shot just wide. The second chance was plucked from the sky, where most of his service was coming, as he raced onto the ball beating a defender before drilling it straight at the keeper.
The substitues on the night however proved pivotal. Federico Macheda on for Bebatov and Javier Hernandez on for Anderson combined to decide the game. Nani laid the ball off to the overlapping Macheda where Chicharito, who was also overlapping him also with his searing pace, controlled the ball with a delicate touch before rifling it home with just five minutes remaining on the clock. Easy as ”shelling peas” someone might say.
Despite being largely outplayed for the majority of the game in the uncomfortable Spanish heat, the reunion of a key defensive unit, the emergence of a pair of young goal-getters and in particular the result was most satisfactory. In the coming days, important midfielders will be returning, some strikers are showing terrific instinctive form and the defence is finally going back to its miserly roots. As per usual for this time of year, Manchester United are clicking into gear. Now watch them go. They’ll be harder to catch than Chicharito doing a 100m sprint.