Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Little Pea Comes Up Big: Manchester United 3 - FC Braga 2

photo by Muffetvia PhotoRee

Q. So, how did last night's starting lineup shape up?

A. There were a number of unsurprising changes, as the game against Chelsea this weekend figured prominently into Fergie's plans. Which meant a Champions League debut for Alexander Buttner, a recall for Darren Fletcher, Tom Cleverley and Shinji Kagawa, a return from exile for Chicharito, and a move to center back for -- wait for it, wait for it -- Michael Carrick.

Q. [Insert obligatory question about conceding an early goal]

A. Yes, it happened again, this time in the [fill in the blank] minute. It may be better at this point in the season if Sir Alex would just agree to spot the opposition a goal so there wouldn't be a surprise as to when the road team will take the lead at Old Trafford.

Q. Anything else catch your eye in the early going?

A. Yes, but rather it was what wasn't there than what was that was most noticeable. We felt a palpable lack of urgency from the home side, who appeared put upon that they were required to work on a Tuesday evening. Some may quibble and call it "patience," but that particular word implies a team waiting for the right opportunity to strike. If United were patient for the first 20 minutes of last night's action, it was only because there wasn't a single opportunity available, with the team making no concerted effort to create one. Malaise may be a more apt description of the Red's general first half mood.

Q. How'd that central partnership between Carrick and Evans work out?

A. Other than gift wrapping and handing over a second goal to Braga before the 20 minute mark, they were great. We think Sir Alex may be onto something big here.

Q. Well, don't leave me hanging here -- Did anyone ultimately step up for the home side?

A. Chicharito did, obviously while he wasn't fantasizing what it would be like to play regularly for Atletico Madrid. The speedy Mexican timed his run to perfection before nodding down Kagawa'a cross, shaking the home crowd out of its stupor and giving them something to cheer about. Chicha also benefitted from a well-judged decision by the Serbian referee, who allowed play to continue after a foul on RVP, but we'll circle back to that subject in a minute.

Q. Did things change in the second half?

A. Not immediately, although there were some signs that the game was going to spring to life: Nani replacing Kagawa, the defense pushing higher up the pitch, United closing down the opposition, etc. The sustained pressure finally resulted in a Jonny Evans equalizer, with the scorer more unexpected than the result.

Q. And then...?

A. And then Chicharito showed he has a much better sense of timing than either line judge. Incorrectly ruled offside for the second time on the evening, the Little Pea was denied the opportunity to score the go ahead goal -- a victim of his own superb run and timing too quick for the human eye. Or maybe it had to do with the refereeing team being from Serbia....

Q. Did the defense settle down and "hold serve" after the equalizer?

A. And how... David De Gea's first touch of the ball came in the 70th minute.

Q. Did any one United player stand out in your mind for his performance on the evening?

A. It was all about the Little Pea, as Javier Hernandez was a man transformed. Timing his runs to perfection, running long distances with the ball at his feet, and scoring twice, Chicharito made all the difference Tuesday night, and offered a serious statement of intent for a regular position in the starting eleven.

Q. Was that all she wrote?

A. Yup, that's how it ended, 3-2 to the good guys. Now all but qualified for the next round, Sir Alex and the boys can afford to turn their attention to London, where a key battle looms on Sunday.

Until then, we'll leave you with a quick suggestion for a new team motto: Manchester United: Shipping Goals and Taking Names.

This is farlieonfootie for October 24.

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