Manchester United left it late to snatch the maiden victory of their fledgling Champions League campaign last night, eventually emerging from the decrepit Mestalla stadium with all three barely-deserved points after seeing off Spanish pace-setters Valencia by a single goal.
Mexican striker Javier Hernandez came off the bench to wrap up the win for United with just five minutes of the tie remaining, but the lion’s share of the preceding 85 minutes left a lot to be desired – with Valencia perhaps edging the doleful stalemate.
Both teams offered little in the way of truly incisive football, but United’s often-woefully inept passing, sloppy possession yielding and intrinsically confusing system left me seriously questioning whether or not last night’s offering (especially the first-hald display) was the worst I’d ever witnessed them play in European competition.
In fairness, they did steadily improve (albeit from a very low starting point) throughout the second half, but their upward curve was still punctuated with moments of almost laughable nonchalance. That said, the toughest of United’s Champions League fixtures is now out of the way, and to have gotten a result by whichever means will undoubtedly be considered the salient factor.
Here’s how I saw fit to rate United’s protagonists…
Edwin Van der Sar: The veteran Dutch ‘keeper had precious little to do but, as always, did what was asked of him reliably. Managed to pull off an exemplary save in the first half, repelling Jeremy Mathieu‘s stinging volley when, unbeknownst to him, the whistle had already gone. His handling was sound throughout, but he was handed a fortunate reprieve when striker Roberto Soldado failed to divert Alejandro Dominguez‘ cross into his vacant net. 7/10
Patrice Evra: The fact that the once impenetrable left-back is now regularly getting beaten with pace and trickery is a worryingly prevalent trend. Seems to be a shadow of the player he was up until the tail-end of last season, and has seemingly had his attacking instincts curtailed into the bargain. 5/10
Rio Ferdinand: His laconic style lapsed into outright laziness at points but he began to settle as the game waddled on. The returning centre-back made a crucial interception when Soldado was poised to strike and was suitably proficient in the air, but he’s still some way off his imperious best. Half a point knocked off for his unwillingness to sprint. 6.5/10
Nemanja Vidic: The Serb looked to be relishing playing alongside Ferdinand again rather than any of his more unreliable understudies. Remains a powerful presence even when he doesn’t particularly excel. Got studded in the ribs for his troubles. 7/10
Rafael Da Silva: Looked to be carrying a groin tweak for the majority of the game, though continual winces toward the bench were largely ignored. He was clearly being restricted but defended well (his positioning is still a little suspect) and bolstered the attack when the opportunity fleetingly arose. 6.5/10
Michael Carrick: The fact that he constantly takes up deep-lying positions is the downfall to Carrick’s game. He is non-combative and the fact that his once-consummate passing ability is slipping means he regularly gives the ball away in dangerous areas rather than upfield somewhere. Faded to the point of anonymity during the game but, in fairness, he has only just returned from a lengthy injury lay-off. 4/10
Darren Fletcher: Hardly what you could deem a vintage performance from the ‘most underrated midfielder in the Premier League’. His passing was unadventurous and yet still somehow often misplaced, and his first touch abandoned him on several occasions. Obviously ordered to play very deep (like Carrick) to nullify Valencia’s attack, but he suffocated at times. 5/10
Anderson: Probably the best performing of United’s middle three, but that’s not saying much. The Brazilian isn’t equipped to play in the position he was deployed as he’s not ‘cute’ enough to operate in support of a lone striker. Stood out as his passing was slightly less shoddy than that of his midfield colleagues. 6/10
Park Ji-Sung: Absolutely anonymous for large swathes of the game and should have been replaced. His movement was constant, but continually lacked focus and thus he contributed little of any consequence. 2/10
Nani: The Portuguese winger needs to stamp out his propensity to writhe in agony after any contact with the opposition, but his pace did give left-back Mathieu plenty to think about in isolated spells. It was his buccaneering charge that instigated United’s late goal. 6.5/10
Dimitar Berbatov: There’s isolation, then there’s Charlton Heston in Omega Man, then comes Berbatov against Valencia last night. Continually had hopeful high crosses pinged into him with his back to goal and struggled to make anything from them as there wasn’t a teammate within 20 yards of him. Did manage to create two wonderful chances for himself, but ultimately saw his Champions League barren spell continue. 7.5/10
Javier Hernandez: (on for Anderson, 77) What higher praise can you bestow upon ‘Chicharito’ other than he was solely responsible for United winning a game they really didn’t deserve to? Hit the post and then took his goal brilliantly, when he had no right to even get a shot away after Macheda’s hurried pass. 7/10
Federico Macheda: (on for Berbatov, 85) I’m not subscribing to the theory that his assist was a ‘great ball’. The pass was rushed, too hard and bouncing up at Hernandez’ ankles – the fact that the Mexican converted with such ease got Macheda off the hook for not having a go himself. That said, he definitely made an impression after coming on with just five minutes remaining. 7/10
John O’Shea: (on for Rafael, 90+2) Had little time to make an impact. N/A
* * * * *
There we go folks. Agree/Disagree with my ratings? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts…