No messing around
Following an abject display in Europe last season it seems as though Sir Alex is to take no chances with the team he selects for Champions League games this term. Matthew Stanger dissects Wednesday's defeat of Galatasaray in which United got the job done without ever scaling great heights
By Matt Stanger. Last Updated: September 20, 2012 12:14pm
Michael Carrick ensures it's job done as Sir Alex picks his strongest side in Europe
Manchester United's starting line-up against Galatasaray certainly suggested that Sir Alex Ferguson is taking the group stage seriously this season, but the Reds still made life difficult for themselves after an impressive opening period.
United could have few complaints as they limped out of the Champions League last season, with Ferguson using the competition as a means to experiment with his team selection. Wayne Rooney was tested in central midfield, Fabio made as many appearances as he did all season domestically, Phil Jones - who had never played in Europe before - featured in every match and, by the end of the group stage, Dimitar Berbatov had made more European starts than he had in the Premier League, despite his poor record on the elite stage.
However, in the first game of this year's tournament Ferguson picked arguably his strongest first XI - bearing in mind Wayne Rooney's enforced absence and Rio Ferdinand's need for a rest - with Shinji Kagawa slotting in behind Robin van Persie in attack and Paul Scholes partnering Michael Carrick in midfield.
The combined factors of the manager planning to retire after 'another two or three years' and the financial impact of last year's dismal performance has perhaps made the Champions League even more of a priority at Old Trafford this season, and Ferguson will be confident that his team can surpass the money men's projection of an exit at the quarter-final stage.
Indeed, United's quality told in the first quarter of an hour of the Group H opener, with Kagawa pulling the strings in the final third and releasing Nani for a great opportunity only to see the impressive Fernando Muslera parry the winger's shot. The Japanese playmaker repeated the trick a minute later, though, with a stabbed pass to Carrick, and the England midfielder's eagerness to put the ball in the net - instead of taking a penalty and a possible red card for Muslera - indicated United's determination to leave nothing to chance.
It looked as though the floodgates would open, as they did when the teams last met in 1994 when United eased to a 4-0 victory. But as Ferguson pointed out in his brief half-time interview, his team's sloppy use of the ball allowed Galatasaray back into the match and the Turks gained a 10 per cent swing in possession as the first half progressed.
Despite Ferguson's words of caution, the Reds were still vulnerable to Galatasaray's pacey counter-attacks in the second period, with David De Gea making a crucial double save to deny Burak Yilmaz and Emre Colak an equalising goal.
Considering the talent United had available, it was surprising that they failed to build on their strong start. Van Persie in particular struggled against Dany Nounkeu - who was excellent on his Champions League debut - and the Dutch striker managed just two shots, both of which were off-target, in his 81 minutes on the pitch.
Van Persie was perhaps hindered by Nani's selfishness, with the Portuguese hogging the team's attempts and missing a penalty in embarrassing fashion. The two attackers played less than an hour together in United's first four matches of the season, and a lack of understanding was evident as Van Persie created more chances for Nani than the winger did in return.
Despite these frustrations, though, a vital first victory will serve United well as they seek to improve on last season's poor showing. And as Ferguson said after the game, at this stage a win was the most important thing.