Manchester United dropped their first points in this seasons Champions League this evening, after Galatasaray held out for a 1-0 win. However, despite the loss there was much to be pleased about.
Having already tied up top spot in the group, Sir Alex Ferguson opted to field his ‘second string’ in a match where gaining experience was as crucial as the performance. With eight of the travelling twenty-one man squad not having any previous European experience the trip alone was valuable. The likes of Cole, Wootton and Vermijl would have been disappointed not to have figured in the game, but to have experienced the Turk Telekom Arena would have helped their mindsets when their chance does come.
The Galatasaray fans have a fearsome reputation, and for good reason. They produce a deafening noise, far greater than even the teams more experienced starters, Fletcher and Carrick, are used to. Therefore the choice of playing the likes of Welbeck, Buttner and Jones would also add another string to their bows. The challenge for these slightly more experienced players was not to be distracted by the crowd, and more so, keep them quiet. After a lively start that is exactly what they did.
Yilmaz stung the hands of Lindegaard in he United goal early on, and Tom Cleverley returned the favour at the other end before the game had settled down. When it did United were very comfortable. After initially struggling to pick up the pace of the game it was Nick Powell who began to shine for the Reds. With Carrick playing at centre back it was Powell who controlled possession in midfield, and with excellent awareness of space and fine passing he looked at ease in the middle of the pitch.
Uniteds biggest worry during the first half didn’t appear to be Galatasaray’s attacking threat, which was being dealt with comfortably, but some rather thuggish challenges from their hosts. The neat passing in midfield was cooling the crowd down but had their opponents getting hot around the collar. Yilmaz was a little fortunate to have only received a booking when he came in hard from behind on Buttner. As for Melo, he should have received a couple of reds and a yellow in the first twenty minutes. As it was, he received nothing.
Perhaps the referee had been soft, intimidaed even, when it came to dishing out more suitable punishments to individuals, but he was strong to resist the temptation of giving the home side a penalty. The ball certainly struck Buttner’s arm in the box when crossed over, but as it was so close to him and his arm was down by his side the referee chose to play on. With such a din from the home crowd many would have sucomb to pressure and awarded a spot kick.
Though United were coping well with the Galatasaray attack, it was the Turkish side who were looking more dangerous when going forward, and in turn their set pieces looked their most likely way of breaching the young United defence. Yilmaz provided a clue of what was to come when he twice rose unchallenged in the box to win headers. United were let off on both occasions though as neither chance found its way on target.
As well as United were doing, and keeping possession, Welbeck and Hernandez were only getting half chances to give Sir Alex Fergusons third ever youngest Champions league team the lead. Pleasingly though, the build up play was excellent and United were able to get at their opponents regularly and put them under periods of pressure.
For all their good build up play however, United twice came close to breaking the deadlock from set pieces. First Phil Jones, playing his first game of the season, came close to heading in an Anderson corner before Powell came even closer when he crashed a Cleverley corner on to the cross bar.
Galatasaray began the second half with more urgency than they had shown in the first half and quickly had Lindegaard performing at his best to keep the scores level. Firstly he found himself diving to his right and doing well to hold a well struck Riera shot and then reacted brilliantly to turn over a Melo header.
Melo was certainly fired up. After his quite reckless tackles in the first half he now found himself screaming/encouraging the crowd (as if they need encouragement to make more noise) after his header had been turned over. Whether it made a difference or not to what happened at the resulting corner, who knows, but the crowd did find another notch to go up.
As the corner was floated in, the United defence was static. Yilmaz got a run on Powell and rose powerfully above him to fire his header in to the roof of the net to make up for his earlier missed chances.
In typical Manchester United fashion The Reds rallied and responded well to the disappointment of going behind. The philosophy that they had all evening of keeping the ball and patiently building attacks remained. Within a few minutes Hernandez looked odds on to equalise. The tireless Danny Welbeck looked like he had put the little Mexican in, but when Hernandez checked to fire his shot into the net Melo, typically, got a block in. This time he celebrated in a way a ‘keeper does saving a penalty. Still fired up.
With the game still in the balance Galatasaray were not about to over commit in an effort to kill the game off. However they did, on two occasions, come close to doubling their lead. Lindegaard had to be somewhat flexible to turn a deflected Eboue shot away, but was helpless when Altintop struck from twenty yards. Fortunately the ball thundered against the cross bar and was cleared to safety.
United deserved something from the game and continued to push right to the end. Young, Macheda and Joshua King were introduced to freshen things up a little. King looked lively as he tried to impress but Macheda and Young had very little impact. Macheda, for what he lacked in quality, he worked hard to try and make up for it. It was his persaverence that almost provided United with a late equaliser. Fighting to keep possession inside the Galatasaray box he almost slid in Hernandez, but again the United striker was denied by a last ditch tackle.
The final result may have been disappointing but the performance that this young group of players put in was very pleasing. As for the experience of being hosted at one of Europe’s most intimidating venues and holding your own, priceless.
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