Should Manchester United fail to score against a CSKA Moscow in the Champions League on Tuesday night it will be the first time in 23 years that the club has gone four games without a goal. Louis van Gaal surely has no wish to join David Moyes in securing ‘the wrong kind’ of club record post- Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
The Dutchman, who has been the subject of increased scrutiny over his team’s style since United limped to a third goalless draw in succession on Saturday, says that “the players, the manager and the staff” are working hard to install the attacking football demanded by ever more frustrated supporters.
Yet, there are no guarantees against a CSKA side that is now on a 21-game unbeaten streak in domestic competition, albeit a period in which the Russia side lost at VfL Wolfsburg on Champions League match-day one and in the away-leg of the qualifying round at Sporting Lisbon.
Still, Leonid Slutsky’s team remains in good form coming into match-day four. CSKA drew at Terek Grozny and then beat FC Ufa since United’s 1-1 draw in Moscow two weeks ago. In between Van Gaal’s side has, with must consternation, failed to score against Middlesbrough, Manchester City and Crystal Palace.
Indeed, United registered just one shot on target at Palace – Wayne Rooney’s limp free kick – and made just three opportunities from open play. It is a pattern that Van Gaal claims his team is ready to break.
“Until now there is always progress. I can remind you of the fact that you were saying, “Defending, defending, that is the problem,” said Van Gaal on Monday
“Now we are the best defenders of the Premier League, you are saying that we cannot attack. No, it is not true. It is only a moment in the process. We have stood first in the Premier League. Now we have a bad period because it is a bad period when you do not score goals. You have to score goals because that makes the difference.
“I hope that we shall score against CSKA Moscow. But I know that it is very difficult because they are very organised. They shall play more defensively than Crystal Palace for example. So it shall be very difficult but still we try to score goals.”
Despite United’s struggles in front of goal, Van Gaal is not yet ready to drop his captain, with Rooney having scored just six this season – four of Rooney’s goals came against Club Brugge and Ipswich Town. Rooney’s movement, first touch and attacking penetration were once against questionable during United’s draw in South London, although Van Gaal says that the 30-year-old “gives us more than only scoring goals.”
“He is our captain but also an example for the whole team,” said Van Gaal. “He has more credits than any other player. I have explained that to the group already, one and a half years ago. I still have confidence in Wayne Rooney.”
It means that French striker Anthony Martial is once again likely to be deployed from the left, while his manager also talked up the prospect of using the teenager on the right in future games. Martial scored in Moscow – a fine diving header to equalise – but it remains his only goal during a seven-game period in which Van Gaal has shunted the former Monaco player out to the wing.
Meanwhile, Slutsky’s team is looking to pick up its first result on the road in this season’s Champions League in what is proving to be a four-way competition for qualification from Group B. The Russian side has developed an effective counter-attacking game and is likely to sit deep at Old Trafford, using the pace of Ivorian striker Seydou Doumbia, together with Ahmed Musa and former Red Zoran Tosic, on the break.
“Manchester United are Manchester United,” said Slutsky. “They remain a club of top quality. This team is obviously very good with possession so we will play a counter-attacking game. When a team has players like Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney and so on, they can score at any time and against any opponent so their recent blanks don’t provide much comfort.”
After the past fortnight’s games United’s supporters may not hold the same level of confidence. Still, it is in fans’ support that Van Gaal believes his side will find the confidence to attack on Tuesday. At the weekend more than 3,000 travelling supporters chanted the name of Van Gaal’s recent critic, Paul Scholes, while urging the team to “attack, attack, attack.”
The Dutchman’s team will need to find the front-foot on Tuesday, lest the mini-rebellion instigated at Selhurst Park, should spread to Old Trafford.
“We have had a dip in our results and we have to come out of that dip,” van Gaal admitted. “That’s why we need the support of the fans. I hope, in spite of a lot of discussions, they shall support my players. The fans have always done that and I hope they will be the 12th player tomorrow again.”
Team news and line-ups
Van Gaal is unlikely to offer Rooney a rest, despite the forward being one of the few players who has not been rotated this season. Would the Dutchman consider changing this policy to take his captain out of the limelight for a week? Perhaps, although not this week.
“I have done that for all my players,” Van Gaal replied. “For example, Paddy McNair had a week in Ireland last week. When we think it is for the best, I will do that. It is not a big issue for me because even when I was a very young trainer-coach I did it with Jari Litmanen. It is more a big issue for the players; they are not so easy to convince.”
Elsewhere, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young may be competing for one place in Van Gaal’s side. In defence Phil Jones is available after sitting out games against Middlesbrough and Palace, while Matteo Darmian will start at right-back only if Antonio Valencia remains injured.
Meanwhile, Memphis Depay has not been selected for Tuesday’s squad. The £31 million forward was also dropped by a highly critical Dutch national coach Danny Blind this week, with the 54-year-old questioning Memphis’ value as a ‘team player’.
“Every player needs a boost when he is out of the team and Memphis is not an exception,” added Van Gaal. “The consequence of not being in the national selection is because he is not playing that well. It is always the same – a player always has to perform well, otherwise there will be other players compared and the coach will make a choice.”
CSKA defender Aleksei Berezutski and midfielder Roman Eremenko are both doubtful for the Russian side.
United subs from: Romero, Blind, Pereira, Tuanzebe, Carrick, Fellaini, Herrera, Valencia, Lingard
CSKA subs from: Chepchugov, Nababkin, Chernov, Cauņa, Milanov, Golovin, Makarov
Match officials (POL)
Referee: Szymon Marciniak
Assistant referees: Paweł Sokolnicki, Tomasz Listkiewicz
Additional assistant referees: Paweł Raczkowski, Tomasz Musiał
Fourth official: Radosław Siejka (POL)
United 1-0 CSKA
Manchester United came close to a humiliating home defeat against weak opposition in last night’s Champions League match against CSKA Moscow. The three each goal fest looks flattering for the Russian team – just four shots on target to United’s ten – but the lack of fighting spirit from Sir Alex Ferguson’s side must have been highly encouraging for Chelsea’s Carlo Ancelotti.
United it seems – a fully fit Darren Fletcher and Wayne Rooney apart – doesn’t like to fight.
CSKA Moscow sacked former Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid manager Juade Ramos after just forty-six days in his job and replaced him with the unknown and inexperienced thirty-eight year old Leonid Slutski four days after United’s away win in Moscow a fortnight ago. But the new manager can be more than pleased with his Champions League debut, whilst the United players, ashamed of what could have ended a four and half-year unbeaten run in this competition at Old Trafford, must think again.
Injuries to the preferred central defensive pair, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, will of course be used as an excuse for last night’s weak performance. So will Ryan Giggs and Dimitar Berbatov’s absence, and the late induction of Wayne Rooney. Still, it wasn’t the youngsters given their chance, in lieu of absent stars, that failed their exams last night; it was their decorated multi-millionaire veterans that didn’t put up a fight.
Wes Brown, a seasoned United professional for more than a decade, was out-run, out-paced and out-muscled along with his young colleague, Johnny Evans, by the CSKA Moscow strikers Alan Dzagoev and Tomas Necid. Edwin van der Sar will go into football history as one of the finest goalkeepers ever to grace the game but he failed to command and direct his disappointingly quiescent defenders. The veteran himself will surely be displeased with his handling of all the three conceded goals.
Paul Scholes’ passing is still the best in the game but when an opposition huff and puff at the Ginger Prince for as long and as consistently as CSKA Moscow midfield duo of Deividas Šemberas and the excellent Milos Krasic did, the old legs of the midfield maestro simply aren’t mobile enough. The distance between United’s defenders and midfield last night was evidence of this.
And Michael Owen up front took his typical poacher goal well but wasted two easy sitters inside the first half and was generally slow, with a poor Tevez-esque first touch.
Most of all, it was the poor work rate from United that stood out. This didn’t change until new father Wayne Rooney entered to lift United to a very late comeback, while potential United target Igor Akinfeev in CSKA Moscow’s net made a series of fantastic saves and but for the unfortunate own-goal from Georgi Schennikov would have steered his team to a win.
One poor performance doesn’t merit criticism for United’s lack of fight, of course, just as one swallow does not make a summer. But it is undeniably worrying that when United lose – or come close to it – it’s often against teams with that fighting spirit. Burnley away this season, Liverpool at Anfield and the home draw versus Sunderland – all proof that United suffers more from the loss of Roy Keane, than Cristiano Ronaldo!
It’s fitting then that United will face Chelsea’s hard-man Michael Essien this Sunday. The Ghanaian will have noted much of yesterday’s match.
Ingar also blogs blogs on United, sport and internationa travel at ingar.blogg.no.
Manchester United left it very, very late to secure a draw against CSKA Moscow at Old Trafford and with it qualification to the last 16 of the Champions League. United, never in front in the tie, had to come from 3-1 down in the Group B clash against a poor Russian side.
Sir Alex Ferguson, extolling the virtues of stand in central defenders Wes Brown and Jonny Evans this week, watched in horror as United’s defence, missing the injured Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, crumbled in the first half.
The opening goal came on 25 minutes, scored by Alan Dzagoev following a neat one-two. Youngster Dzagoev, too quick for Evans, fired into the roof of the neat with a finish not dissimilar to that by Fernando Torres’ 10 days ago. The embattled Ferdinand this time thankful he was not on the pitch.
But the goal sparked United into life and four minutes later Michael Owen, who had already missed two good chances, turned to slot past the helpless Igor Akinfeev from close range.
United’s central defenders left another huge gap to allow CSKA back into the game minutes later. Milos Krasic scoring to put the Russians into a shock half-time lead.
Ferguson, hairdryer still warm, could do little as Vasili Berezutsky took advantage of poor marking by Federico Macheda to head in from a set piece just seconds after the restart.
Darren Fletcher, returning after injury, found himself in the book for diving to add insult to injury. Replays showed the Scot felled in the box following a good turn and a clear penalty denied. Ferguson called the decision “one of the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime” post match.
United, searching for a route back into the game, brought off the disappointing Nani for new father Wayne Rooney, with Fabio making way for Patrice Evra. And Frenchman Gabriel Obertan, on for Macheda, again impressed with his penetration and running.
With the tempo increased, United forced a string of fine saves from Akinfeev. The ‘keeper, linked with a move to United in recent weeks, once against showed why he is CSKA’s most highly prized asset.
With just five minutes to go Paul Scholes headed in from a Gary Neville’s cross to bring United back into the match. The full-back, who caused CSKA problems all night, crossed for the midfielder to score into Akinfeev’s top-right hand corner.
In typical United fashion the home side equalised with moments remaining. Valencia’s wickedly deflected effort, following neat work by Rooney, left Akinfeev with no chance to ensure United maintained a 22-match unbeaten home run.
“We were absolutely fantastic in terms of our desire to win the match and were unlucky at times in the game,” Ferguson told MUTV.
“Their goalkeeper made some fantastic saves, we hit the post and missed a lot of other chances. And we also had a stonewall penalty turned down.
“But we didn’t make it easy for ourselves and it became an uphill fight. That’s maybe not a bad thing though because it’s a reminder that when you leave yourself open in European football it can be very dangerous.
“Their first two goals were soft goals to lose and the third was unbelievable – a free header at the back post on a set-piece. That’s the first goal we’ve lost on a set-piece for a year; it’s a good reminder for us about how we need to defend those situations, especially as we’ll face a lot of set-pieces on Sunday at Chelsea.”
But the manger must restore confidence to United’s brittle defence if his team is to take anything from Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge. Evans and Brown, likely to feature against Chelsea, will take little confidence from this game.
Sir Alex Ferguson has rejected criticism of Rio Ferdinand and suggested that the defender is playing through injuries for Manchester United. Ferdinand, who has made a series of costly errors in recent weeks, will miss United’s Champions League tie against CSKA Moscow tonight with a recurring calf injury.
“There’s no discernible depreciation in Rio’s qualities, none for me at all,” Ferguson said ahead of United’s group B tie where a win will seal qualification for the knock out stages of the competition.
“In my time here we’ve always had the situation where one of the star players hits a little blip,” Ferguson added.
“Rio is going to get criticism but that’s part and parcel of being a Manchester United player and we are all aware of that. With Rio it’s quite simple. No one likes to be criticised. They all like to be loved and have arms round their shoulders at times but he will come out of it, there is no doubt at all about that.”
Ferdinand, who has made high-profile errors in recent United and England matches, has suffered a series of calf, back, hip and thigh injuries over the past year. The former Leeds and West Ham player, beaten for pace and strength by Fernando Torres for Liverpool’s opening goal at Anfield 10 days ago, has appeared in just eight of United’s 17 matches this season.
Indeed, the defender has missed around half of United’s games over the past calendar year, with the stop-start nature of the player’s appearances having an effect on Ferdinand’s form, according to Ferguson.
While Ferguson has no doubt Ferdinand’s form will return when the injuries clear up, others are less certain. Such is the perceived depreciation in Ferdinand’s form that former England manager Graham Taylor said the defender has “lost his legs” last weekend. Although Taylor’s appreciation of the defender’s art is aptly surmised by recalling how the former Watford boss deployed 6′ 3″ United centre-back Gary Pallister at left-back for a crucial 1994 World Cup qualifier in Norway.
Ferguson also revealed that Ferdinand, 31 on Saturday, has played through the pain barrier for United in recent weeks. While the defender will miss Tuesday’s match, he has a slim chance of making United’s trip to Stamford Bridge next weekend.
“Playing with injuries is not the easiest thing to do but of course we will try to get that right for Rio,” said Ferguson, who will pair Wes Brown and Jonny Evans against the Russian side at Old Trafford, with Nemanja Vidic also ruled-out.
“Calf injuries can be troublesome and, if you don’t arrest them and give them their proper treatment, you can end up the way we are just now with players playing games when they are not 100% fit.”
But Ferdinand’s position at the heart of both United and England’s defence is far from certain should injuries persist. Norman Whiteside, Paul McGrath and Louis Saha will attest that Ferguson is no slave to quality if he cannot deploy it on the pitch.
Wayne Rooney, another player likely to miss the CSKA match, has been given compassionate leave after the birth of his son, Kai. Ferguson will pair Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen in attack, with Italian teenager Federico Macheda drafted into the squad.
Manchester United kept up their perfect record in this season’s Champions League with fully deserved win in Russia last night. Returning to the Luzhniki Stadium – scene of United’s 2008 Champions League triumph over Chelsea – Sir Alex Ferguson’s men beat CSKA Moscow in group B with a solitary Antonio Valencia strike.
Despite leaving a quintet key players at home, Ferguson’s team controlled proceedings from the off. Starting with the now typical European five man midfield, Dimitar Berbatov ploughed a lonely furrow up-front, with Michael Owen left on the bench. John O’Shea made a surprise return to central midfield and Brazilian teenage Fabio da Silva started his first Champions League game at left-back.
It was tough going for United’s Bulgarian striker but with Nani and Valencia offering outstanding support from wide areas United was the only side posing a real threat.
Scholes’ shot from 30-yards troubled CSKA’s goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, linked with a move to United this week, who palmed away awkwardly. And then Gary Neville curled a shot just over as United took control of the first half.
In spite of the oft-mocked Irishman’s presence in a holding role, United maintained possession comfortably on the Luzhniki’s artificial pitch. But with the middle of the park highly congested chances came at a premium in a tight first period.
If ever a game adhered to the old cliché, United changed the match radically in the second period, resorting to a direct approach by switching play from back to front. Tactically it was hardly United but on the night when the plastic surface played a significant part in proceedings, Ferguson had the measure of his opponents.
Nani in particular was influential, stretching the game on the left, with Valencia offering support from the right as United looked to find space in the channels. Débutant Fabio, using his pace to full effect before leaving the field with cramp, often doubled up with the Portuguese winger to offer United considerable penetration.
Substitute Owen on for Paul Scholes – protected ahead of Sunday’s match with Liverpool – missed a chance on the volley within minutes of joining the match. Valencia then capped the move of the match by crashing a shot against the bar after swapping passes with Nani.
But United was not denied and earned a hard fought for winner with less than five minutes to go. Valencia slammed home at the near post from eight yards for his second goal in as many games.
“I said before the game that if you’re a good footballer you concentrate on the ball. I think they did that and they did it well,” manager Ferguson told Sky Sports after the match.
“We wanted to go for a surge through the middle rather than in the wide positions and I think that worked quite well.
“We had some good chances at the end of the day, we improved our goalscoring chances and we’re pleased Antonio Valencia has got a good goal.”
Ferguson also praised United’s patience – a hallmark of his side’s performances away from home in the Champions League. The Old Trafford outfit is now unbeaten in 14 European away ties.
“In the first half I think we played with a lot patience, which is necessary when you are playing away from home,” Ferguson said.
“Experience in these sort of situations is always vital. In the second half I think we increased the tempo of the game and got more penetration.
“We created some good goal opportunities and if we have to wait to the 86th minute, so be it. We had to have the patience to win, and we did that.”