Five bookings and a sending off tells you most of what you need to know about this game. It started promisingly but quickly faded. This Man United team is no thing of beauty and is largely reliant on a tried and tested defence and a midfield that tucks in and gets stuck in. Peeking his curly locks out from under the â€˜tried & testedâ€™ umbrella is Rafael who complements skill and directness going forward with impetuousness and Paul Scholes style tackling at the back. Lucky to stay on after his first half challenge on Palacios it was a surprise, given the no-nonsense mood of ref Mike Dean, that he lasted as long as he did before receiving a second yellow in the 74th minute.
Other players couldâ€™ve gone with him, mostly ones wearing red, given the amount of petty fouling, back chat and general spoiling behaviour going on. On the day Ryan Giggs personified the opposition in that there was no sign of the skill and poise weâ€™ve been familiar with over the years, instead he was just another midfield battler misplacing passes, getting caught in possession and giving away countless free-kicks with trips and pull-backs.
Nani, Berbatov and Rooney (not looking a day under fifty by the way) were largely anonymous though the latter was the only man on the field who forced either goalkeeper into any meaningful action. A shot in each half forced Gomes to parry and push wide respectively whilst at the other end, we hit the target with edge of the box free kicks but none with shots that caused Van der Sar to take both hands off his zimmer frame. Our best chances fell to Crouch and Van der Vaart who each put their shots & headers just the wrong side of the woodwork.
Trouble scoring goals is a theme running through our league season of course and that wasnâ€™t the only familiar aspect of our play. Modric yet again was superb and easily the best creative influence on the field. Dawson and Gallas were excellent in the centre, Bale and Lennon as usual hurled themselves at the opposition fullbacks whilst support from behind them was fitful and erratic in quality. Unitedâ€™s narrow midfield allowed Hutton and Assou-Ekotto to carry the ball forward for much of the second half but they failed to make the most of it most of the time.
On positive notes, both Gomes and Palacios gave more assured performances than weâ€™ve been used to of late and Redknapp should be pleased that there was no sign of being intimidated by reputation etc as we outplayed them in most areas of the pitch. But in the end the inability to make the most of our opportunities when they came was key. We were on top of all the statistics captions; percentage possession, attempts on goal, corners etc but Crouchâ€™s sidefoot wide from Huttonâ€™s cross in the eighth minute was our best chance and the closest we came to scoring. Van der Vaart sights werenâ€™t quite correctly set as he sent a near post header past at the end of the first half and curled a shot from just inside the area narrowly over in the 80th minute.
So a game played in a fierce atmosphere where ultimately feistiness got the better of flare and United dominated the tone and tempo. Even though the match as a whole left a slightly bad taste in the mouth, the fact is that there are good points and bad points and this was one of the better ones.
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