CFR Cluj vs. Manchester United: 6 Things to Ponder in the Wake of Narrow Victory
However, just like their third place in the Premiership masks the realities, tonight United showed they have a long way to go if they wish to claim the Champions League title.
What should have been an easy three points was made difficult by a poor start, despite Sir Alex Ferguson naming a very strong side.
As the saying goes "you have to be in it to win it," so the result is all that matters—United have the time to iron out their flaws before the knock-out stages of the competition.
Who Is Number One?
For the sixth game in a row, United have started a different goalkeeper, with David De Gea turning in a solid performance tonight.
I'm all for rotation but only when it has a purpose and at the moment I don't see the thinking behind their current situation.
The key to a good defence is stability and all the chopping and changing behind them surely isn't helping matters.
Ferguson needs to make a decision and live with the consequences. A bad decision is better than no decision at all. By not picking he is only adding to the pressure on his keepers.
On what they've shown this season, I would go for De Gea. He made one mistake this season but has been exceptional otherwise. He kept us in the Everton game, saved us against Galatasaray and made a number of good saves tonight at the death.
Lindegaard is a fine keeper but he can't do the things De Gea can. With their porous defence, United need a keeper who can make those one-in-a-million saves.
Is It Time to Act and Bring in Defensive Cover?
At the start of the season I was pretty happy with United's strength at the back. They had a good mix of youth, experience and style. I did worry about their depth at right-back but not massively.
Now, two months into the season, I am beginning to question if it is time to act.
Jonny Evans picked up a knock tonight, and if he is ruled out of the Newcastle game, United are back down to bare bones.
Rio Ferdinand is being forced to play week in week out—problematic because of his age and injury history—and his form has suffered. He looks tired and slow out there.
With Evans, Smalling and Jones all proving to be injury-prone, it could be time to go out in the market and add to their numbers.
The only question that remains is do United go for an experienced, reliable back-up, an instant starter or a versatile player capable of playing across the back-line.
Will Ferguson Ever Pull the Trigger and Drop Evra?
Another game, another shocker from Patrice Evra.
There comes a moment in every player's career when they realise they just don't have it anymore. Perhaps it's time for Patrice Evra to ask Gary Neville for advice.
Some fullbacks rely on footballing intelligence, others like Evra rely on athletic ability. The body normally goes before the mind which explains why Evra appears to have hit a wall at just 31. Maicon is another example of a player facing a similar plight.
In the past, his huge motor and searing pace were enough to make up for the deficiencies in his reading of the game.
Now when he finds himself out of position he has neither the pace nor the engine to rectify his mistakes.
Tonight he left an acre of space for the lightening-quick Modou Sougou to exploit for the opening goal. Given he was the sole player patrolling the left flank he should have been glued to the touchline.
The game may have ended differently had Sougou not suffered an injury midway through the first-half.
How Good Will the Wayne Rooney-Robin Van Persie Partnership Be?
But tonight was the first time the two men have started a game together, and what a debut it was for the partnership.
Rooney provided the ammo while van Persie did the damage. With both players capable of scoring and creating, they could be unstoppable.
Rooney's energy will probably see him assume the role of creator, with RVP leading the line.
After such a bright start, United fans will be hoping the duo's partnership will continue to develop as the dynamic duo are good enough to make up for any short-comings in the side.
Can Anything Stop Darren Flecther?
In an age when the word hero is thrown around so much, calling Darren Fletcher a hero might not be enough praise for the brave Scot.
While kids admire the Ronaldos, Messis and Hazards of the world, the man they should aspire to emulate is a lot less glamorous.
Ronaldo, Messi and the like are one in a million. They are born with greatness in them. You can't coach that sort of brilliance. All you can do is try and maximise it.
Fletcher, on the other hand, is a testament to what you do if you are committed and push yourself.
He wasn't blessed with great natural ability but he squeezed every last ounce out of his talent.
He shows that if you put the hard work in you can reach the top. You just have to believe.
It is these attributes that have seen him come back from an illness that could have ended his career. He came back with all the energy and passion that made him such a great player.
His return is a huge boost to the club, his story of recovery will help thousands of sufferers out there.
Welcome back Darren, we've missed you.
Can Anderson and Cleverly Finally Deliver on Their Promise?
There was a time when Anderson was the hottest prospect in world football. He was the Lucas Moura of that time.
Since then he's flattered to deceive. He flashes brilliance before fading into the background. A few years ago he played a talented Liverpool midfield off the park and fans thought he'd arrived, but it proved to be a false dawn.
He became a bit-part player before reemerging last season, forming a hugely-impressive partnership with Tom Cleverly.
The duo seemed to have a telepathic understanding, taking turns attacking and playing beautiful one-touch football.
Cleverly's injury woes put paid to that partnership and Anderson faded away again.
If United can keep them fit, they could form their midfield for the foreseeable future. Anderson is 24 and Cleverly 23 so they have years of football left in them.
I can't help but feel that Anderson has grown up this past year, as the boy United signed finally became a man.
This year he returned with a clean haircut and ready to knuckle down. United will hope the talented Brazilian can finally deliver on his promise.
If the duo can repeat their form of last season, United might finally replace the legendary Paul Scholes.
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