Manchester United got their Champions League quest off to a winning start with a 1-0 win over Turkish side Galatasaray but the victory did not hide the cracks beneath the surface of the performance.
United fans all over the country, Europe and the world settled down to watch the match in the hope that the team would have learnt the lessons from last season which saw them fail to get out of the group stage. What they were treated to was more of the same as no right minded football fan could have denied Galatasaray the win had they converted their chances.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side need to improve in a number of areas and quickly.
Patrice Evra at Left-Back
Patrice Evra is one of the most experienced players in the side, he has played in numerous Champions League campaigns and has won the tournament with United and with former side Monaco. The one thing he lacks is pace and he needs further protection down the left hand side or he will be constantly exposed against quicker wingers. Nani is not a defensively minded player and his effectiveness going forward does not make up for his lack of effort getting back.
All too often in the match against Galatasaray United won possession back and then gave the ball away shortly after. The only way United can stop better teams from scoring against them is to keep the ball for longer. United had only 45% of possession for a home Champions League match against aide they should easily beat on paper. If that was a stat that appeared after a Barcelona home European match then the whole of Catalunya would be in mourning.
The Shape of the Side
The reason United held out against Galatasaray is because very few players from the Turkish side were able to penetrate the defence and get in behind. Most of the play was in front of the back four which is easier for the defence to deal with. United lack pace in their defence, especially with a trio of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Evra all bound to play together at some point in the tournament. United have to try and get teams to play narrow football against them as Galatasaray did because if they keep a narrow shape they could hold out for an eternity. They need to master this quickly because when the back four was stretched, that's when the problems started to develop.
Antonio Valencia was widely hailed as the best winger in the Premier League last season despite the fact United didn’t win the title. He looked way off the pace in the Champions League match, his passing was poor, his crossing was poor and his general trickery through skilful mayhem also eluded him. Valencia needs to hug that right touch line when United are on the counter and dart all over the place like a headless chicken to create space for Rafael and Phil Jones to overlap from right back.
They need him back in the team and quickly because of his experience and presence. Robin Van Persie was hopelessly isolated at times against Galatasaray because Shinji Kagawa is not the sort of player that is going to resist the temptation to dip into the midfield to pick up the ball. What Rooney will add is a support line for the Dutchman to thrive upon. He links the midfield with the attack possibly better than anyone else in the game so United need to get him back into training and back into the side quickly. The difference being that Rooney doesn't disappear from the front line for five to ten minutes at a time as the Japanese playmaker seems to do regularly.