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.