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Sporting Lisbon 0-1 Man Utd: Local Boy Scores

United started their 07/08 Champions’ League campaign with a 1-0 win that was more important — considering that it was played away from home against a tricky opposition — than enthralling. At the moment, 1-0 wins are becoming the forte of the 2007 edition of Manchester United — something we talked about at length the other day.

While what we saw wasn’t too pretty, there were some positives to take home, and we’ll dwell on those, apart from discussing the obvious sore points.

We didn’t start the game too well and we were, by no measure, the dominant team. They had the better chances and they dominated possession. Let’s be honest with that. But in the past, we used to manage to carve out a few chances for ourselves whenever we had the ball, but it didn’t happen yesterday. Not in the first half at least and not in my book.

Sporting had one really good long range swerving shot that was well saved by EVDS – who had an outstanding game. He was my man of the match clearly, as he had two more crucial saves to make in the second half that well won us the match.

Before we talk a little more about the match a word on the formation used. SAF opted for a 4-3-3/4-5-1. It was pretty much expected, if you ask me, given they were playing away in a CL tie. Not that I approve of it that much. I had suggested it in the preview, with the personnel mentioned there, varying ever so slightly — Nani on the left instead of Tevez and Rooney upfront instead of Saha.

Another thing I had to mention was the turf. It was ridiculous. I could have made a pitch like that. All a player had to do was sprint and suddenly change direction and pop! — and entire chunk of grass (or whatever it was, that was apparently glued to the soil) came off. One must be relieved that no one hit a shot to goal along the ground that made the ball take a cruel bump and over the arms of the keeper into the net.

Back to the game, Rooney started and Saha was on the bench. Tells you a story, doesn’t it? Fergie is still not confident starting Saha — which is fair play to him if you think about it. We need Saha and given his wretched injury record, and the important game against Chelsea, we’d prefer it if he’s used sparingly, while getting good minutes up on the clock. This is of course not saying that Rooney had a cracking game. No he wasn’t. If you play him in a 4-3-3 up on his own, he wouldn’t be too happy. And since he’s just coming back from injury, he wouldn’t be fit enough to make any significant impact in the game, which he didn’t. There was just the one chance where he set up Nani in the first half during a counterattacking move, but Nani couldn’t get past the defender and hence, shot it wide.

We picked up our game in the second half, but not immediately. It took us quite sometime. The early part of the second half was all Sporting. They were taking the initiative, and while they weren’t creating too many chances, they did prove to be more attacking. We kept giving the ball away far too many times. The overall passing was sloppy. Carrick, Nani, Ronaldo, Scholes, Brown were all guilty of that. I reserve special mention to Giggs, who wasn’t too involved in the game, and generally did a great job of watching the game fly past him. I really couldn’t see anything from him and was actually surprised that Giggs wasn’t taken off earlier.

Scholes wasn’t too bad, to be honest. The problem with the midfield is actually the partnership between Carrick and Scholes. Carrick is looking to move forward more this season. So is Scholes, as is his wont. When they both do that they do get in each other’s way and that creates problems when it comes to passing the ball or tracking back. Individually I wouldn’t blame either of them, but collectively they are not gelling as well as they did last season. But then, one wouldn’t be too wrong to suggest that the whole team (from midfield onwards) has not been gelling well. Last season, we had a well settled team, and with minimum injuries early on, we played the same team in and out, for a good part, with O’Shea and Fletcher deputising.

Saha didn’t do much, but you might have noticed how he moves and holds the ball up, waiting for others to come in. I will love it if he plays with another forward say, Tevez or Rooney, but that will have to wait.

Ronaldo came to life for around 15 minutes in the game and that was a decisive period. He initiated the move and was at the end of it before diving low for a great header into goal. While we talked about bad passing, and awful movement in the box, Ronaldo was a live demonstration of what we have to do more often in order to score. The build up was good and quick (not the usual slow ones), the passing was good and Brown’s cross was perfect. And to top it all off, the player who started the move showed awareness and movement to get into the business end of the box to see the ball home. Perfect. That’s the way to do it. Ronny didn’t celebrate, because it was an emotional moment for him, and was applauded by the home crowd when he was taken off. They still love him, which is nice for a change — considering what he faces in England.

It is also worth noting that after the Tottenham game, this was the first goal scored in open play. Although, we have headed-in all our last three goals! We’ll take it however they come at the moment.

Before I end this, some positives:

  • Rooney got a valuable 70 minutes under his belt. He showed desire to have the ball, but is still some distance from full fitness.
  • Our defence has been outstanding this season. They are, as Ahmed also suggested to me, better than last season. Especially Rio and Vidic. Rio must get the armband for good now. He has shown great desire to win as many other bloggers have recently suggested and I like the vibes from him. It is testament to the excellence of the back four that I feel strangely over confident that we will not concede if we score. Even if it was a one-nil advantage. Regular United fans would realize that is not something you could be too confident of, based on recent history.
  • EVDS had a brilliant game. Which is good, now that we have to face Chelsea this weekend.

And that is about it for the day. Arsenal meanwhile look scary, especially Fabregas. They are playing their usual good football but they are also finishing. Let’s hope they slip up somewhere in the league.

Although, that’s not happening next week. They play Derby.

Update: At the time of writing this article, Mourinho hadn’t quit. Or at least news hadn’t filtered through. Anyway, will post detailed opinions on that later. Although it’s fair enough to assume that Chelsea would be the bigger losers with his resignation/sacking.

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