|photo by daily sunny||via PhotoRee|
Manchester United toiled their way to a workmanlike 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light last night, leaving hosts Benfica and Portugal with a satisfactory point, but unable to reach the dizzying heights which the team has occupied of late. The English Champions looked more fluid in the second half than they did in a disjointed first, and dominated posession for considerable periods of the match without creating the wealth of opportunities which they have recently come to expect.
o The match was largely devoid of any sort of flare or excitement, and it brought back some none-too-vivid memories of last season's European snoozers against such sides as Olympique Marseille and Rangers. Chalk the outcome up to Sir Alex's much more conservative managerial style when the team plays in Europe, and I reckon the Scot will be secretly pleased with the overall outcome.
o Sir Alex offered a complete overhaul of the lineup, choosing to sit eight players who took the field last weekend versus Bolton. Confidence or arrogance....?
o Whichever you decide, Sir Alex was clearly channeling his inner tax accountant on the sidelines, wearing a short-sleeve, button down shirt with a red rep tie (in Manchester United colors, natch). Personally, I prefer the black pea coat look he sports when the weather turns a bit cooler.
o Remarkably, even with eight changes to the starting 11, Dimitar Berbatov still couldn't crack the starting lineup -- nor did he see any time at all on the pitch. It's debatable about whether or not he ranks ahead of even Michael Owen at this point. It's seemingly crazy the fate that has befallen last season's leading scorer....
o Was anyone else surprised to see Wayne Rooney play all 90 minutes last evening? I know I was, what with thoughts of the Chelsea match this coming Sunday occupying my head....
o Chicharito and Nani both came into the action at the same point -- relatively late in the match -- but the similarities didn't end there: they continued during their scant miniutes on the pitch, during which time neither player had the slightest bit of influence whatsoever on the match.
o I, for one, was slightly disappointed in the outcome, especially given the personnel on the pitch: I kept expecting a late United goal to take all three points, but to be honest, it was the hosts who had the better chances as time ticked away.
o It was fantastic to see Tony V. back on the pitch for the first time since last season's European finale. Also great to see Darren Fletcher return to action.... But while Valencia played well, and had a solid impact on the match, I can't recall much that Fletch did other than flub an opportunity to score in front of net.
o Anders Lindegaard acquitted himself well in his first start of the season. I don't think there was much he could have done on the Benfica score -- the one on which Jonny Evans was used and abused -- and he singlehandedly snuffed out several other opportunities for the home side to win the game. There were a couple moments in which I thought he looked a slight bit rattled, but I can't pinpoint any dodgy decisions he made.
o Michael Carrick did not play very well yesterday, giving the ball away on numerous occasions, and seemingly misplaying as many passes as he compeleted. When is Tom Cleverly returning?
o Given the relative weakness of United's group, there's no way I can see the boys in red finishing anywhere other than top, and last night represented by far the toughest of the three group stage travel nights. All in all, a workmanlike point is still a point, and United head home to face a tougher challenge at Old Trafford this coming weekend.
This is farlieonfootie for September 15.