After not even remotely looking at the races for the first 45 minutes, United slowly grew into the game and Anthony Martial’s superbly taken equaliser delivered a point that had seemed unexpected at the break.
Here’s five talking points from last night.
1) Slow starters
On Saturday, United seemed to have rectified their issue of starting games slowly, as they took the game to Everton from the start. On Wednesday, however, they looked just as slow out of the blocks as they had done against Club Brugge, Southampton, Wolfsburg and Arsenal earlier this season. After the defeat at the Emirates, Louis Van Gaal spoke of the importance of United imposing themselves on the game from the start, but the first half in Moscow was another setback on that front. Not only does a slow start means that, more often than not, United have to chase the game, it also renders their ball possession futile, as keeping the ball is a largely pointless exercise when looking to rescue the game.
2) Martial law
Anthony Martial’s night in Moscow got off on the wrong foot as he needlessly gave away the penalty for CSKA’s opener after blatantly handling the ball in the box, a decision Louis Van Gaal described as “stupid”.
However, despite being deployed again wide on the left, a position he occupied at Monaco and one from which he caused Everton’s defence constant problems on Saturday, United number 9 came to the rescue once again.
The Frenchman’s equaliser, a perfectly timed diving header that have Igor Akinfeev no chance, spoke volume for the 19-year-old, who continues to betray a maturity beyond his years.
Martial has now scored five goals since joining United on deadline day and while he will soon no longer be able to rely on the surprise factor that has accompanied him so far, his talent has already made him a pivotal element of Van Gaal’s side. However, while his pace means he can be effective from wide positions, Martial should be deployed up-front from now on.
3) Rooney’s struggles continue
Having broken his an 11-month without an away league goal on Saturday, Wayne Rooney took the field in Moscow knowing that a goal would’ve taken him past Denis Law in the list of United’s top goal scorers in European football.
As it was, Law shouldn’t have worried, for Rooney delivered the sort of frustratingly disappointing performance that’s become almost the norm for him this season.
Admittedly not helped by a dismal lack of service in the first half, the United captain didn’t help his cause by never making himself available to his teammates.
Numbers can be deceiving but there was no escaping the truth behind the figure showing only David De Gea had touched the ball less than Rooney halfway through the second half.
4) Job done
Having produced one of the worst performances of Louis Van Gaal’s tenure in the first half, United grew into the game as the second half wore on and ultimately secured what could prove to a very important point.
United have four points from the first three games and with home games against CSKA and PSV up next, they could already have secured a ticket to the knockout stage by the time they travel to Germany on match day six.
However, Van Gaal’s side will have to be wary as both sides could cause problems on the counter.
5) Lingard seizes opportunity
Earlier this season, Van Gaal was criticised for what the press perceived to a be drastic turn away from the Manchester United tradition. The Dutchman was accused of placing the club’s fabled record with academy players in favour of spending hundreds of millions on world class players.
Van Gaal, however, has given youth a chance and his decision to hand Jesse Lingard a start on Wednesday night was further proof the former Holland manager isn’t fazed by the prospect of throwing in youngsters at the deep end of the pool.
Lingard played well, surviving the dismal mediocrity that crippled his side in the first half and showing the kind of industrious approach his manager would have approved of.
Expect him to get more chances this season.
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