Manchester United suffered a first loss of the 2012/12 UEFA Champions League campaign on Tuesday, going down 1-0 to a competitive Galatasaray side in Istanbul.
Burak Yilmaz scored the only goal of the game to seal victory for the Turkish giants, rising above Darren Fletcher to head past Anders Lindegaard and bag his fifth goal of the competition.
The result, although disappointing at first glance, has little significance for Reds supporters as qualification through to the knockout stages was already secured prior to kickoff and Sir Alex Ferguson will no doubt have been encouraged by his team’s spirited display.
Here, I critique the action at the Turk Telekom Arena and consider what can be learned from Tuesday’s defeat on the continent.
Prior to kickoff on Tuesday, much had been made of Manchester United’s return to Istanbul following the Reds now infamous trip to Turkey in the early 1990s when Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were ‘greeted’ by thousands of locals holding aloft banners entitled ‘Welcome to Hell’.
Back then, Galatasaray played their football in the Ali Sami Yen stadium, an old-fashioned ground that shook to the bone under the pressure of a capacity crowd. Now, they have moved to the modern and innovative Turk Telekom Arena.
As United found out, the architecture is considerably different, but the decibel count remains the same. With thousands of passionate, rowdy home fans packed inside the stands, a youthful Reds team coped admirably under remarkable strain in Istanbul.
As top spot in Group H was already sealed prior to kickoff, Sir Alex Ferguson opted for youth against the Turkish giants and, despite the result, will have been encouraged by his team’s spirited display.
For large parts of Tuesday’s fixture, United controlled possession in an attempt to silence a partisan crowd and the 1-0 scoreline was perhaps an injustice considering the flow of the game.
With an average age of just 24, the Reds showed admirable composure and maturity under intimidating circumstances as several young players, most notably Nick Powell, delivered fine performances.
Of course, Ferguson has always placed his faith in younger players, holding the belief that if you place your trust in youth then you will be rewarded for doing so. This theory was proven on Tuesday.
‘Making it’ at Manchester United is a troublesome task, yet Nick Powell is making it look easy.
With a drop of a shoulder and the swipe of a right boot, the 18-year-old made an instant impact during his goalscoring Old Trafford debut against Wigan. Then, on Tuesday night against Newcastle, the summer recruit enhanced his burgeoning reputation with a classy, mature display.
In June, when Powell first joined the Reds from Crewe, Alexandra’s academy director Dario Gradi optimistically compared his star pupil to Old Trafford greats Eric Cantona and Wayne Rooney, describing the 18-year-old as “a real match winner who has got everything going for him.”
In Istanbul, the young forward was a standout performer on the full United debut, showing great promise in the final third and almost handing his side the lead after 41 minutes, heading off the crossbar to much despair. It’s early days, but Powell looks the real deal.
Since arriving at Old Trafford in the summer of 2011, Phil Jones has been compared with greats of Manchester United, Spain and Italy with several pundits linking the former Blackburn defender with the likes of Duncan Edwards, Fernando Hierro and Franco Baresi.
This is not a beneficial tactic as, quite simply, it brings an enormous amount of pressure. The same can be said for those who expect the young Englishman to walk back into the Reds’ starting team following several months watching from the sidelines with injury.
Granted, Jones made an impressive return against Galatasaray on Tuesday and is a welcomed addition to United’s defensive ranks. But his lack of match sharpness was, as was expected, exposed on several occasions and he will need time and minutes to improve. Patience is the key.
This season, and for the most part of last, Sir Alex Ferguson has opted to rotate perceived number one goalkeeper David De Gea with Danish stopper Anders Lindegaard, a tactic that has raised eyebrows among some pundits and supporters of Manchester United.
However, following another impressive performance at the Turk Telekom Stadium on Tuesday, Lindegaard continues to flaunt his credentials and maintain a promise that he is not at Old Trafford “to pick his nose.” Quite simply, he wants to start.
The Dane, selected in De Gea’s absence as the Spaniard recovers from dental treatment, pulled off several tidy saves against Galatasaray and, most notably, executed a brilliant stop just second prior to conceding what became the winning goal.
This was the display of a man desperate to impress, causing another serious headache for Ferguson. But whichever way the boss goes against QPR on Saturday, fans can solace in the fact that both options are highly creditable.