Manchester United Failed to Convince in Champions League Win vs. Galatasaray
On the evidence of their somewhat fortuitous opening victory against Galatasaray, Manchester United have yet to learn the lessons of their Champions League failure last season.
Sir Alex Ferguson's team prevailed 1-0 at Old Trafford through Michael Carrick's well-taken goal, but looked vulnerable throughout and were far too accommodating to their Turkish visitors when they swarmed forward on the counter.
Last season, it was United's home form that cost them in the group stages. High-scoring draws against Benfica and Basel suggested a new generosity at "The Theater of Dreams," while the ruthlessness in attack we've come to expect from Sir Alex Ferguson's teams was conspicuous by its absence.
The result was a first exit at the group stage since the 2005-06 Champions League campaign. And the kind of failure that burns inside Ferguson like a festering rage.
In the buildup to their clash with Galatasaray—the team who famously knocked the United of Cantona and Keane out of the tournament back in 1993—Ferguson will surely have used last season's disaster story as the main narrative theme to the players.
Defend poorly and you'll go out. Don't take your chances and you'll go out.
If only they'd listened.
As early as the first minute, Galatasaray had strong appeals for a penalty turned down when Nemanja Vidic brought down Umut Bulup. They would hit the bar and the post before halftime and were extremely unfortunate to go into the break behind.
United were not without their chances, but aside from Carrick's moment of class, were found wanting in front of goal—most notably when Nani saw his penalty saved after Rafael had been tripped in the box.
It was United's third successive penalty miss this season, and Ferguson admitted afterwards he didn't even know who was going to take it (via Guardian):
To be honest with you, I had no idea. I think Nani just ran and grabbed the ball. I thought Robin (van Persie) should have taken it. I think we will have to decide before the game—that was my fault, I should have done that.
That he should. But you could also argue the penalty failings of Robin van Persie, Javier Hernandez and Nani are symptomatic of a team who aren't quite as clinical as they ought to be.
Perhaps if Van Persie had taken the penalty, he would at least have made a notable contribution. The Dutchman was a peripheral presence on his first Champions League start for United, drifting in and out of the game and falling a long way short of the influence his talent demands.
It's already hard to imagine that accusation being levelled at Shinji Kagawa, who once again impressed and furthered the argument that he may be the hardest to drop if Ferguson can only accommodate two of Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and the Japanese playmaker.
Whoever Ferguson picks in defense, United will have to be tighter than they were against Galatasaray.
The Turks managed 14 shots at Old Trafford, with three of those hitting the woodwork and David de Gea making a brilliant double save in the second half to deny Burak Yilmaz and Emre Colak.
Ferguson said afterwards United were "careless."
They were also lucky. And Ferguson won't need telling that luck only goes so far in the Champions League. United need to improve and fast.
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