The Romanians breach the fortress!By: Ian | December 6th, 2012
Given that Utd qualified from their Champions League group as winners in just four games, the subsequent two games were to be played only for completeness from their view. Nevertheless, for their opponents, it was an opportunity to catch Utd in experimental form, playing against players who, for the most part, just needed game time. That was certainly how Cluj played in the final game last night, they had a chance of qualifying if other results went their way. It didn’t end that way, but the Romanians were involved in breaking a certain record: Utd failed to score at Old Trafford since Rangers visited in September 2010.
Despite the Manchester derby on the weekend, the starting line-up was not weak. The defence was a bit of a mix-up: Jones (returning from injury, Smalling, Wootton and Buttner. In addition, Giggs, Cleverley and Powell supported Rooney, Welbeck and Hernandez. This heavy attack nearly worked early on as Welbeck came close with a header from a corner. Smalling didn’t deal well with the clearance though, conceding possession and De Gea uncomfortably with the resulting save.
Nick Powell recovered from a knock to power in a few shots of his obvious preference, mid to long-range drivers. Cluj retaliated, they still had a chance of qualification after all, forcing Wootton into making a good challenge and Rooney to continue with his role of being bloody everywhere. Rooney’s defensive qualities didn’t overshadow the fact he was trying to go forward too, his chance coming in the form of a well-saved attempted chip. Hernandez kept the ball in and his cross was nodded over by Smalling, but that was the clearest chance and should really have been the first goal. Scholes came on for Cleverley just before half-time, apparently due to a calf injury.
The cagey first half meant that a draw was a likely scenario, but Luis Alberto clearly didn’t like those odds. Cluj trundled forward before Alberto found space and just decided to casually hit a wonderful swerving belter that span away right into the top corner. It reminded me of Scholes vs Barcelona a couple of years ago now. Utd had once again conceded first, admittedly this one wasn’t a bad one to let in for entertainment purposes, but the odds must be rapidly increasing for Utd clean sheets.
The comeback button ultimately proved faulty last night, but Utd did try to score by bringing on a fourth striker, the completely forgotten Macheda. He scored against Villa in a 3-2 win aged just 17, and that’s pretty much all of note since. Rumour has it he’ll be off soon, but for now his job was to find an equaliser from somewhere. Despite efforts, he, Rooney, Giggs, even the lively Jones, couldn’t fashion a breakthrough. Cluj won, but cruelly Galatasaray beat Braga, relegating Cluj to the Europa League. They will be tough oppposition there, having handed Utd a second defeat in the two final dead-rubber group games.
Is this concerning ahead of the Manchester derby on the weekend? Well, the defensive frailities certainly are, and the manager says so too. The comeback button can be punched until the end of time, but I have a feeling it won’t be enough on the weekend to rely on coming from behind. Utd MUST start lively, and prevent any early failures. Points wise, the games against City last year, particularly the 1-0, could have made the difference between title and no title. I honestly have no idea which way it’s going to go, but I don’t have that much confidence to be honest. And that is mostly due to the performance of the back four.
What do you think? Thoughts on the upcoming derby below, and the Cluj match if you wish, but that’s a bit irrelevant now.