Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Night to Forget: Manchester United 0 - FC Cluj 1

photo by Bistrosavagevia PhotoRee

Q. Youth to the fore last night?

A. Yes, for sure, with the match representing a dreaded "dead rubber" in the Champions League group stage. Scott Wooton, Alexander Buttner, Tom Cleverley, Nick Powell and Danny Welbeck all got looks from the Boss. Sir Alex being Sir Alex, though, he also made a few "oldsters" available, including Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney. Evidently wanting a better view of the action, the Gaffer opted to sit in the stands and watch his young side from high above the fray.

Q. Did the infusion of youth result in faster and more free flowing team?

A. No, it seemed as if slow and boring were the instructions given in the locker room. Dead rubbers often play out this way.  Although Cluj needed to win the game, United weren't particularly in the mood to give their Romanian group mates a gift. A defensive-minded stalemate was the result.

Q. So: Half and hour in and not much to report, eh...?

A. Yup, that was about the state of things after 30 minutes: some dogged back and forth but precious few real opportunities created by either side.

Q. Is that the way the half ended?

A. Well, United did turn up the heat a bit before the interval, as the offense finally began to build up some momentum. Basically, it was the result of Wayne Rooney beginning to impose himself on the game.  Somewhat more worrying than the scoreline, though, was that Tom Cleverley limped off just before the break, and the youthful side that began the game was now being led by midfielders who were 38 and 39, respectively, as Paul Scholes partnered Giggs in midfield.

Q. Did United look comfortable in the second half?

A. Not after Cluj took the lead through a Luis Alberto laser that nipped its way into the upper corner of De Gea's net.  Unfortunately, the recently introduced Scholes was responsible for a unfamiliar giveaway near midfield, and the Cluj striker didn't waste the opportunity. Once again, United found themselves in familiar territory, having conceded the opening goal in nearly 2/3 of their matches this season.

Q. The most interesting development of the second half?

A. You mean other than United's inability to score, even when they were attacking Old Trafford's famed Stretford End?  It had to be when Galatasaray pulled ahead of Braga in Group H's other contest, effectively neutering the game at hand.  As if it wasn't meaningless enough already, now even a slim 1-nil road victory wasn't enough to send Cluj through to the knockout round.

Q. But surely the game didn't end like that, did it?  The Reds must have salvaged at least a point, right?

A. Actually it did end that way, as United managed a feat they didn't accomplish even in last season's shambolic Champions League display: losing at home. Sure, the game was meaningless for both sides, but what about pride?  What about momentum?  Neither was on display at Old Trafford last night. On an evening when the action never really got started the Reds produced a lame effort and went down far too easily.  The team struggled to find width all game, and the absence of Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Nani is beginning to tell. Whereas the defense is regaining members, the midfield now seems a bit barren....

Once again the Reds are top, but this was not a display to remember -- a feeling that's been conjured up quite a bit this season.

This is farlieonfootie for December 6.

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