United won a game that I thought wasn’t exhilarating for a 3-0 scoreline, as a spectacle. Perhaps the 10,000 odd strength of the stadium made it look like a kick about at a Sunday league game. No disrespect to the fans of Aalborg, who to their credit sang their lungs out, but when I heard the commentator mention about a section of fans holding a banner with “Welcome to hell!” written on it, I thought they had a really good sense of humour — a heated cauldron with mentalists baying for blood was certainly not a picture that came to mind.
The headline makers of the day were Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney, for their goals, but the man who really caught the eye was Rafael da Silva. More on that in a bit.
Fergie sent out what he thought was a strong United team. Wes Brown would have every reason to be livid about it. Even I was not happy at Fergie’s decision to overlook Brown. My unhappiness was slightly tempered by the fact that we got another chance to see one of our young prospects show their wares on the European stage. The idea — to blood youngsters — was good. But the cost — of doing it at Brown’s expense — wasn’t.
Now I’m sure Brown’s a decent lad who’s been United through and through and wouldn’t throw a fit straight away. But whilst he may have been able to come to terms with seeing Gary Neville play ahead of him — he’s our skipper after all — coming off the bench for a puny 18 year old, and only because said puny 18 year old was feeling his knee, would have sucked out the last vestiges of self-respect left in him. I appreciate Fergie’s bravery for selecting a youngster in a European game, but I feel sorry for Brown.
But back to our puny Brazilian. The kid’s got amazing desire and skill. He’s not afraid to get stuck, and his trickery and pace can rival even our most accomplished wingers. He’s quite a talent: raw, unhinged, and unafraid of the occasion. And boy, did he grasp the opportunity given to him! A couple of shots that he took could have easily been goals. They weren’t blind pot shots that end up being missiles targetted at the friend in row Z who wanted a souvenir ball. They were good shots on target that tested the ‘keeper. And well informed observers of the South American leagues, like the excellent Tim Vickery, think Fabio is the more talented one. Now I hope I temper this excitement down. He is, as I said, raw. And with raw, you get parts of the game that need to be worked on. He does need to learn to track back and not get caught out too forward. A marauding full back like Evra would help the chap better at that.
Moving on, to another character that deserved more than a cursory mention: Dimitar Berbatov. He scored a brace, but was struggling to find his feet in the first half. His passes were off — even the simple ones — although the ideas were good for most part. It’s the pulling those ideas off part that wasn’t up to scratch. From what I’ve seen of Berbatov, I really think he’s got a good footballing brain. And someone with a good footballing brain can adapt to a system more easily. His influence is growing, but it’s been gradual. In the second half I saw more of the Berbatov I wanted to see. Some of his skills are so languid in execution that they don’t get the appreciation they deserve. His ability to shift the ball from one foot to the other with minimal upper body movement and with two defenders on his back was a subtle move that I’m not sure a lot of people may have noticed. But more than the quality of his goals, what caught my eye was his pass with the outside of his boot to Ronaldo that the Portuguese somehow contrived to miss. That was class. I think Berbatov is getting there, as far as gelling with the team goes, and his comments on being angry with himself for not scoring a straightforward chance gives us a glimpse of how much the man wants to prove to the Old Trafford faithful. More than his partnership with Rooney, I see a greater and a more mouthwatering understanding with Ronaldo in the works. Watch this space.
Another player who was left for the last was Wayne Rooney. He was again impressive, and scored again. The presence of Berbatov seems to have taken the responsibility — of having to be a primary scoring threat — off his shoulders and this lessening of burden has freed him more and perhaps, given him more composure in front of goal. Or am I reading too much into this? Oh well, how typical of him then to get into a vein of form and then limp off the field. He seems doubtful for Blackburn.
I was shocked at the selection of O’Shea alongside Scholes in midfield. A more decent side would have ridden roughshod over us. In fact, the Aalborg midfielders did bypass O’Shea rather easily. I don’t know what sort of rotation Fergie has in mind, but it’s a good idea to keep Fletcher fresh for the graft that is in store against Blackburn — who always give us a good fight.
When Scholes limped off, I wasn’t impressed with Fergie bringing on Giggs in his place — “Oh, so we have a a world class squad, yet we are back to our central midfield of O’Shea and Giggs that dragged us to 2nd place in the 05/06 season”, I thought. Irony? I think so.
But Giggs looked like the sort of player we really needed. Has just enough pace for a central midfielder, has enough experience and vision to create time for himself on the ball, and showed that he could thread some neat passes as he setup Rooney. So, world class squad it is then.
As a concluding note, I still think we were never even out of second gear on the day. The 3-0 win was another step as we look to move into a situation where we really start spanking teams that are half decent. Till then I’ll keep the faith in our squad to be in touching distance with the league leaders. After which I hope Liverpool begin their time honoured tradition of imploding under the weight (and noise) of the Kop and Chelsea continue to play as badly as they did against Cluj.
It’s a pity we head into the international break after Blackburn away, just as we seem to be hitting the right notes.
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