Before I talk about United, I want to talk about CSKA Moscow. I am impressed with them, even if the chairman pulled off something even his Football Manager counterpart wouldn’t: firing a manager, in this case Magic Juande Ramos, after less than three months in charge. That takes some serious stones. But that’s not why I’m impressed with them.
I am impressed because they play together as a team, first of all. Throughout the match, they all appeared to be on the same page, offensively and defensively. I can appreciate that when it happens at the highest levels. Barcelona is the best example while United only does it sporadically. Second, I really enjoy watching Alan Dzagoev and Igor Akinfeev play. Even though United doesn’t need either, I think Sir Alex should go buy them both ASAP. Dzagoev, in particular, had tremendous promise, as proven by his outstanding goal today. My jaw dropped when it happened. (Incidentally, if anyone has a video of it, post a link. I will when I find it.) So it’s bad luck that they only got 1 point today.
For their part, United didn’t play very well. Starting a glorified Carling Cup side, Sir Alex put a lot of (misplaced) faith in his back four, esp. Fabio (who looked terrified on the pitch). When he was replaced by Patrice Evra, I exhaled. To be fair, Federico Macheda looked very comfortable on the pitch; I am increasingly convinced he is the real deal. But it was Wayne Rooney that changed the match’s tenor. He brought enthusiasm and passion to the pitch, not to mention two excellent scoring chances. Michael Owen played well, as did Gary Neville. But it was still an average performance at best (I disagree with Richard Jolly’s assessment that United found its focus; if anything, Rooney’s effort shamed the rest of the squad into tying the match).
The upshot is that United are through, even after a lucky 3-3 draw (along with Chelsea, but more on that later).