Chicharito!!! Tonight was the night I knew would happen several months ago; I just thought it would happen sooner. As close friends -- and anyone else I've spoken with since July -- know, ever since I first saw him break onto the scene at the World Cup I've been predicting that young Javier Hernandez, United's Little Sweet Pea, would be an immediate sensation in his first year in England.
The kid just has the "magic" in the words of the inimitable B.O.B., a genuine scorer's touch capable of quickly snatching something from nothing. He did it again tonight, scoring an exquisite goal that livened up a dull game and handed United a famous 1-nil victory on Spanish soil. A beautiful 85th minute run by Nani found Kiko Macheda in the box; a quick pass to Chicharito, a fabulous first touch to control the ball and a calm slotting home past the keeper with his left foot created the only goal United needed on a slow night in the Champions League. To be honest, the game was in dire need of Chicharito's shot of adrenaline. Prior to the goal in the game's dying stages, large portions of the match were, in a word, boring. Just flat out boring, and I rarely say that about a soccer game, especially a Champions League match featuring "the boys" (as Rio Ferdinand refers to them in his tweets). Not much action, complimented by a surplus of sloppy midfield play, and topped with a gaggle of turnovers. SAF chomped angrily on his gum and glared out from the sidleline while both goalies set up deck chairs and ordered piña coladas to help enjoy the scenery on a semi-festive night in Spain. I actually found it a bit surprising that Valencia played such a blasé first half before attempting to wake up in the second 45. At home and leading La Liga, Valencia should have come out of the locker room and grabbed the match by the scruff of the neck right from the get go. Instead, they knocked the ball contentedly around the pitch with little purpose for most of the evening, and most closely resembled a bunch of sleepwalkers ambling about the field looking for a late night snack. If the security forces at the Mestalla had been looking at the pitch instead of the fans, Valencia would have been in grave danger of being booked for loitering.... United actually seemed lulled to into an equally comatose state. After starting the game as the livelier of the two sides, United's play devolved over the course of the first 45 minutes until they were lucky to string two passes together by the time the referee whistled the half mercifully to a close. Second half action picked up a bit, as the goalies actually had to turn over to avoid a sunburn. But it was Chicharito's lovely goal for which the night will ultimately be remembered, and United left the Mestalla with 3 points secure, and first place in the group looking once again likely.
A couple of concerns did emerge, at least for me, as I watched the match. First was Patrice Evra's play, especially in the first half. Evra was completely scalped by Valencia at least 2-3 times, and the sight of him chasing Valencia players frantically back toward his own goal cause me to wonder what is going on inside his head. He's had a poor year to date. From his strange attempt at a midfield bicycle-kick clearance against Everton which led to that game's first goal, to his poor positioning on one of Bolton's goals over the weekend, where he left the left goal post inexplicably unguarded, to the nightmarish first half against Valencia, Pat Evra looks completely out of his league right now. Making this even more worrisome is that this is the same guy who over the course of the entire season last year was probably United's single most consistent player. The trauma of his World Cup experience as Captain of Les Bleus seems to be weighing on Evra and developing into a whopper of a post-World Cup hangover. I hope he shakes it off shortly. Another worrisome note was Michael Carrick's general ineffectiveness throughout the course of the evening, not that this will be filed in the breaking news column. In fact, it took me almost 20 minutes to find Carrick on the pitch, which says all you need to know about a guy who is supposed to act as the team's central playmaker. Several missed passes also contributed to an off night.
But all in all, to sum up my pre-match feelings, I would have been happy with a tie but am delighted with the win. Viva the Little Sweet Pea, and may there be many more goals to follow. And that's farlieonfootie for September 30.