Point ensures Manchester United avoids big-hitters in Champions League draw
ANDERSON’S first goal at Old Trafford ensured Manchester United finished top of its group in the Champions League this morning (AEDT).
In gaining a 1-1 draw Valencia was able to prevent United becoming the first team not to concede in the Champions League group stage, but that was always going to be a bonus for Alex Ferguson.
The priority for the United manager was to ensure that his team finished top of group C, but while the Red Devils were required to come from behind, Anderson’s second-half equaliser was enough to secure the point that averts the threat of being paired with Barcelona or Real Madrid when the draw for the round of 16 is made in Nyon, Switzerland, on Friday week.
Of course, there is no guarantee of an easy tie, with Inter Milan losing to Weder Bremen this morning (AEDT), and there is every chance United could be drawn to play the European champion, a resumption of Ferguson’s bitter rivalry with Rafael Benitez, the former Liverpool manager, but anything is better than meeting a Spanish powerhouse.
Benitez was berated for chopping and changing his team when he was in charge at Liverpool, but even the Spanish “tinkerman” did not fail to name an unchanged team for 150 successive games.
That, though, was the curious milestone Ferguson reached against Valencia when he made nine changes to the team that was crushed 4-0 by West Ham United in the Carling Cup quarter-finals last week.
If not quite United’s strongest side, as Ferguson had promised, it was close to optimum strength and underlined the manager’s desire to top group C and thus avert a possible meeting with what he described as the “big hitters”.
Nonetheless, there was a Champions League debut for Ben Amos, who found himself picking the ball out of the net after 33 minutes on only his third senior start for the club. As disappointed as the England Under-20 goalkeeper will have been for allowing Pablo Hernandez’s shot under his legs, if anyone were to blame for the goal it Michael Carrick. The England midfield player was caught dawdling on the ball, Alejandro Dominguez dispossessing him before drawing in Nemanja Vidic and threading a pass through to Hernandez to score.
Despite the probing of the lively Dominguez, who forced a decent save from Amos in the 16th minute and less than 60 seconds later hit the outside of a post, United will have wondered how it trailed at the interval. With Wayne Rooney threatening at every turn, Anderson a driving force in midfield and Park Ji Sung and Nani willing outlets on the flanks, United looked capable of scoring at will, but the quality of its approach play was not initially matched by its finishing.
Surely a goal had to come? Fast and fluent, United’s football deserved more than to be behind.
Berbatov had two chances in quick succession at the start of the second period, glancing a header from Rooney’s floated cross at Guaita from six yards and seeing another also saved, before Valencia gave United another fright, Aritz Aduriz volleying Pablo’s corner at Amos. For how long could the Spanish resistance last, though? Not much longer, as it turned out.
Rooney sent a shot on the turn wide and then stung Guaita’s fingertip with a rasping drive, but the Valencia goalkeeper was finally beaten when he spilt Park’s 22-yard bullet and Anderson gobbled up the rebound. Berbatov may have scored five at Old Trafford against Blackburn Rovers recently but he was enjoying less luck in front of goal against Valencia. Another header was saved in the 66th minute and seconds later he was denied again when one-on-one.
“Well we could have won the match tonight but their keeper made some brilliant saves,” Ferguson said.
“Berbatov especially could have scored five (like he did in the previous Premier League home game) but he missed with two headers and the others were saved.”