For once, rather than on football, all the pre-match focus had been on books and music.
The books, or rather the book,was obviously Sir Alex Ferguson’s biography, whose revelations have grabbed all the headlines since yesterday’s press conference, while the music was supposed to be provided by Old Trafford’s brand new singing section, the first of hopefully many attempts to revive the stadium’s atmosphere.
While it’s hard to imagine David Moyes using Fergie’s book during his team talk, the singing section got off to an excellent debut and a insightful one at that, for it highlighted a couple of very important points. First of all, it is possible for United fans to sing almost incessantly even at home, Old Trafford’s acoustic really is quite bad as some of the songs were not getting picked up by the Stretford End, and “From the banks of the Irwell” really should be sung at a slower pace, as Real Sociedad fans masterfully proved tonight.
Having been slower off the blocks than a hangover Usain Bolt this season, United could have hardly got off to a better start as Wayne Rooney wriggled his way through the Real Sociedad defence before unleashing a shot that crashed off the post, bounced back towards the middle of the box and was kindly turned into the empty net by the obliging Inigo Martinez.
In front after less than two minutes, United mercifully declined to slump into the torpor that has coated them like a blanket this season and could have doubled their advantage ten minutes later as Rooney met a brilliant cross by Rafael only to see his shot well parried by Claudio Bravo.
United were in total control in the first half, with Antonio Valencia and Michael Carrick performing admirably, while Ryan Giggs justified David Moyes’ decision to pick him in the starting XI. One has to wonder what Marouane Fellaini and Anderson must have thought after seeing a 40-year-old being selected ahead of them, but neither of them has done enough to be granted a starting spot.
Fellaini’s wig is still some way short of providing the physical presence and goals the Belgian produced at Goodison Park, while Anderson must surely be at the end of his United career. Paul Pogba admitted knowing his time was up at United when Rafael and Park Ji Sung were chosen ahead of him in midfield and we can only hope Anderson will show the same self-awareness.
After Javier Hernandez had a goal disallowed for offside and David De Gea had palmed Haris Seferovic’s shot over the bar, United could count themselves lucky to go back to the dressing room 1-0 ahead as Antoine Griezmann’s brilliantly struck free-kick shook the post with the same intensity with whom the ref shook the fans’ nerves, as he proceeded to book players for virtually any sort of offence – from a sliding tackle to, you know, being on the pitch.
In the second half United were again too eager to display their inability to kill teams off, as they wasted numerous chances to increase their winning margin and while Real Sociedad didn’t even come close to an equaliser, the issue must be addressed. All too often this season United have resembled a teenager managing to find himself alone in the room with his girlfriend only to fumble hopelessly with her clothes after their first kiss, until she decides to get up and leave.
There were, however, some positives in the second half – which saw the introduction of Chris Smalling and Ashley Young in place of Rafael and Javier Hernandez – as Rooney and Kagawa combined superbly in a couple of occasions, while Valencia hit the post after an excellent team move and then picked out Kagawa who fluffed his lines at the crucial stage.
The Japanese looked much more comfortable when he was allowed to drift inside then when he was confined on the left, but that will not surprise anyone, least of all Moyes who was quick place the former Dortmund man in his favourite number 10 once Rooney had moved up-front, after Hernandez was withdrawn.
With Leverkusen putting four past Shakthar Donetsk, United are three points away from the magic 10-point total that normally guarantees a ticket to the round of 16. And David Moyes will be happy with that.
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