Fergie always says that ten points in the Champions League group stage is the veritable magic number for advancement to the next round, and with two games to spare, United have reached that target after running riot in the second half in Turkey.
In the process, we moved within touching distance of yet another berth in the knockout stages, but after seeing Nani exit with a knee injury in the first half, we can only hope that there’s not another addition to the season’s list of injury casualties.
Unlike in the previous tie against Bursaspor at Old Trafford two weeks ago, we didn’t take an early lead and then all but shut up shop and not do much to add to our lead and less to lose it.
Instead, we were actually made to work and to wait for the reward, and not only did the reward come in plentiful supply, it was a big, big plus to see who supplied it.
We’ve had some choice words for Darren Fletcher at times this season, because he has had some performances that we’d like to forget. But Fletch, like John O’Shea and Park, is good for the key goal every now and then, and his opener right shortly after the restart was a sign that whatever words were spoken in the dressing room were a bit more effective than they have been in the second half on several occasions this season.
One thing that’s lacked this season, save for perhaps the wins over Newcastle, West Ham, and Scunthorpe, is that killer instinct, that boot on the neck, and that’s proven costly in those matches in which we dropped points that we shouldn’t have. So to see us not just play out another 1-0 European win and call it a day was a real boost.
There’ve been questions and criticisms of some of the no-names, if you will, that we’ve spent our seemingly limited transfer funds on in recent seasons, but it was a couple of those no-names who stepped up in a big way to put the finishing touches on last night’s win.
Gabriel Obertan and Bebe have to make the most of their chances when they get them, and with Nani’s injury only adding to our concerns about our depth on the flanks, it was especially big for both to contribute as they did. Though some of it has been out of necessity, Fergie has made it a point to give the youngsters some playing time in key situations early this season, and though there’s certainly some rough edges with the likes of Obertan and Bebe, having more opportunities will only make them more equipped to play a role for us throughout the season. Judging from our inability to keep everyone fit, it could well be that one of those guys ends up having to save our hide at some point.
It can be said that, after taking the lead, it was highly unlikely that we were going to relinquish it against a side who hadn’t scored in the Champions League to that point and still hasn’t. With that in mind, you do have to look at Bursaspor’s overall weakness in attack and overall lack of experience at this level in comparison to a lot of other sides in the competition when evaluating the victory, scoreline and all.
Still, that doesn’t take the gloss off of being able to record a 3-0 win away from home in Europe, both because of our difficulties with getting such results this season and because of how difficult it can be to take care of business in away European matches against even some of the lesser sides.
And as it stands, we have a fifth overall win in a row, and taking six points from six away from home to this point and not conceding a goal in four straight Champions League matches does deserve at least a nod of respect.
With Valencia taking three points from Rangers at home, we still haven’t assured anything as of yet, and with the SPL leaders still mathematically in the hunt, the trip to Glasgow in three weeks’ time isn’t going to be an easy one.
But we are where we need to be in the table after that initial hiccup, and top spot and an advantageous matchup in the round of 16 are both well within our sights.
We can only hope that Nani will only miss this weekend’s home match against Wolves (and it appears that he will, along with Fletcher), what with the visits to City and Aston Villa next week. He’s a key reason why we’ve been able to stay afloat this season, and to lose him for any extended period of time would be a big blow, even with some key players back and on the way back.
And one can only hope that we can start getting a little more consistent production from our forward line. After Berbatov’s blistering start, he hasn’t scored since his hat trick against Liverpool a month and a half ago, and even though we’ve been getting timely goals from Chicharito and Nani, it would be a big, big plus if Berba can at least get back into scoring form before Rooney returns, because whether or not our forwards produce consistently shouldn’t be dependent on Rooney’s presence or absence.
But I won’t spend too much time on the negatives, as it is a great thing to see that we have players ready and willing to step up in the event of injury and underperformance, like Chicharito has, like Obertan and Bebe did last night with their late goals, and like Park has recently after some previously rough afternoons and nights. It continues to speak well of our resiliency to be able to shrug off issues to keep our winning run going, even if it did take a little while for us to break Bursaspor’s resolve last night.
With Chelsea visiting Liverpool this weekend, we could well have the opportunity to pick up some ground on the leaders ahead of a key week, so let’s look forward to hopefully a six-point week, six straight wins, and perhaps on Sunday evening, a deficit that’s at least half that.
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