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United lack spark on Bonfire Night

1124888-17748138-640-360For a game played on Bonfire Night, United’s 0-0 draw against Real Sociedad showed a remarkable lack of spark, which still leaves United one point clear of Bayer Leverkusen and three clear of Shakthar Donetsk, with a trip to Germany likely to play a big role in deciding United’s destiny in Group A.

Hardly an ideal scenario by any means, and one that could have been easily avoided had United done just a little bit more tonight.

Having scored just three goals in their last six games in Spain and having won only eight of their last 35 matches against Spanish opponents, David Moyes set out to prove that he had memorised the chapter on European in Sir Alex Ferguson’s biography, as United decided to adopt the “safety first” approach that has served them so well in Europe over the last couple of seasons.

The first half was of such mouthwatering dullness that even Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend struggled to muster any meaningful topic worth blabbering about, as United displayed all the creativity and energy of a pot of chamomile tea. The Reds’ lethargic approach, however, was largely self-inflicted.

At times United looked to operate with a traditional 4-4-2 line-up which left Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez isolated up-front, confirming that a formation boasting two banks of four and two strikers is as outdated in Europe as Liverpool’s success, while the 4-2-3-1 line-up United reverted to midway through the first half failed to spark them into life, for it relies on something United currently do not possess – outstanding wingers.

Shinji Kagawa’s malaise when deployed out on the left has been well documented, while after a couple of encouraging performances Antonio Valencia’s confidence seemed to suffer from a set-back, with the Ecuadorian refusing to take his man on and displaying the same confidence of a man who’s been asked to hold a candle after having fallen in a puddle of petrol.

Marouane Fellaini looked more intent to make things happen than in previous “I’m only here, but I really don’t know why” appearances and Ryan Giggs continued to defy age on his 950th appearance for the club, but with Kagawa and Valencia on the wings United had all the incisiveness of a bread stick.

The second half began with more attacking intent for United, with Hernandez missing a guilt-edged opportunity from close range after an inviting cross from Kagawa, before him and Rooney made way for Ashley Young and Robin Van Persie midway through the second half as Moyes decided to award Kagawa 30 minutes in his preferred role.

The results were almost immediate, with Kagawa feeding Young, whose cross found Van Persie in acres of space but RVP could only rattle the post having been on the pitch for barely 60 seconds, before curling a left-footed effort just wide of the post as United pushed for a winner.

With 68 minutes played, Kagawa and Young combined before the former Villa man indulged yet another tumble after the slightest of contacts from Markel Bergara. Young’s dive would had Tom Daley nodding in approval but earned United a penalty, which Van Persie sent crashing against the post.

United could have done with scoring the penalty, but Real Sociedad would have felt hard done by had Van Persie netted from the spot, considering the deplorable theatric deployed by the usual suspect to win a penalty kick that should have never been awarded in the first place.

Young is not only an atrociously poor footballer, he’s also a grade A cheat and the sooner United will see the back of him, the better for them.

With Kagawa deployed in the number 10 role United looked more incisive up-front, as the Japanese reaffirmed once more that he’s a completely different player when playing the striker as opposed to when he’s exiled on the left, but despite their efforts and Real Sociedad’s limits – of which, truth be told, there were aplenty – United could not score and almost finished the game on the back foot as Marouane Fellaini picked up the most obvious of red cards after petulantly kicking out at an opponent with less than a minute to go, having walked a fine line since picking up his first booking.

Value for money, indeed.