The promise of youth will have to wait for another day after Manchester United’s fringe team lost at home to Beşiktaş last night. While the home side enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, Sir Alex Ferguson’s outfit lacked a vital cutting edge as the Turkish visitors held out for a famous Old Trafford win in Champions League group B.
Opting to make eight changes from the side that defeated Everton on Saturday, Ferguson trusted in the vigour of Federico Macheda and Danny Welbeck to deliver the goals that would seal United’s group win. It didn’t happen, as the 17-year-old Italian and his reserve team partner-in-crime drew a frustrating blank.
Defeat was United’s first in 23 home Champions League matches.
The home side started the match brightly with Irishman Darron Gibson a stand-out figure in central midfield for the opening quarter. But United’s inexperienced selection paid the price for not taking an early advantage as the away side took the lead on 20 minutes. Rodrigo Tello’s speculative 25-yard shot beat Ben Foster, recalled in the United goal, at the far post.
The oft-criticised ‘keeper should have done more to keep out the effort, despite a heavy deflection off Rafael da Silva wrong-footed the England international.
Gabriel Obertan, by far United’s best player on the night, then broke free only for veteran ‘keeper Rustu Receber to stop the Frenchman’s effort at the near post. It would have been some full-debut at Old Trafford.
It could have been worse for United’s kids though as Beşiktaş’ Michael Fink almost doubled the visitor’s advantage before the interval with a shot that hit the outside of Foster’s post.
But the youngsters continued to monopolise possession after the break without overly extending Rustu until the closing moments. With Anderson lying deep and Gibson increasingly delivering obvious balls towards the forwards, it was left to Obertan to offer United’s cutting edge on the right-wing. Ferguson’s summer acquisition from Bordeaux has shown more in a handful of outings than Nani – omitted once again – has in two years at Old Trafford. Adeus, Luís Carlos.
An increasingly desperate United threw players forward, including substitute Michael Owen who made little impression on the match. Another from the bench, Patrice Evra, was then felled in the box as a Turkish defender cut across the Frenchman. Evra and Ferguson stood in disbelief as referee Lannoy waved away the protests. After Darren Fletcher’s erroneous booking for diving in United’s last Champions League match, Ferguson was rightly annoyed.
“I was right to be agitated, ” Ferguson said afterwards.
“If you can’t give one like this and the one against CSKA Moscow then you are in trouble.
“It’s a penalty kick – that’s two games in a row they have denied us stonewall penalties but what can you do about it?”
It nearly mattered little as Rustu saved magnificently first from Macheda, after neat work by Owen and Evra, and then from Wes Brown who brought the best out of the former-Barcelona stopper with a powerful header.
But for all United’s possession, Ferguson’s youthful side missed a creative heart in Wayne Rooney’s absence. How the Scot could have done with the former-Evertonian’s ability to fashion a chance out of nothing, or – perhaps more tellingly – Paul Scholes of a decade ago.
Talented as many of Ferguson’s protégés are, the United side badly missed a ‘number 10’ pulling the strings as the youngsters froze in the face of defeat. It’s a fault that Ferguson recognised.
“I thought we needed a bit of composure. The young players were a bit anxious and that is understandable in a way,” Ferguson said.
“It was an experimental line-up in a way. We have to be fair in the way we assess the players in these games.
“The value is the trust we have got in playing these young players. They are potentially top players.
“We know about Macheda and Welbeck while Obertan has only arrived at the club after having a long spell out through injury.
“The important thing is, though, they showed a good level. In the first half we had good opportunities but got caught on the counter-attack, which can happen of course.”
While defeat is a lesson learned, the consequences could be far more serious. United will now travel to Wolfsburg in December for matchday six needing a result to top the group and ensure a – potentially – easier draw in the knockout stages. The Scot’s yougsters, likely to feature again in Germany, will need to perform better if the side is to avoid a group winner in the next round.