5 Things We Learned: Manchester United 1-0 Shakhtar Donetsk
1. Champions League proves again to be a welcome distraction
Much has been said about the contrast between David Moyes’ side playing in the Premier League and the Champions League and Tuesday’s encounter with Shakhtar Donetsk proved to be a solid night for United once again. They didn’t have it all their own way for most of the first half though, with Shakhtar breaking dangerously and passing crisply around United’s midfield, resulting in a few scares for David de Gea. Moyes said after the game that he berated his team for their lack of quality in their passing and this seemed to have an effect as United were much more solid in their overall play in the second half. Even though United had qualified the group was still there to be won but let’s not forget that Shakhtar were playing to qualify for the next stage and there was an element of surprise in United’s ranks. Overall however it has been an impressive qualification round; four wins and two draws meaning United top the group which can’t be overlooked when people decide to round on David Moyes about Manchester United’s performances this season. The consensus is that by topping the group an easier opponent awaits but there is no such thing in Champions League football these days, not least the knockout stages so an improvement in performances will be needed come February.
2. Too much too soon for Giggs?
Ryan Giggs was unable to continue his impressive Champions League form against Shakhtar and perhaps it was expected as this was the third midweek game he’s started in a row. Against Leverkusen he was exceptional and given that was the week he turned 40, it summed up his attitude and fitness levels in that he can still pull the strings when he plays. Unfortunately there’s a harsh saying in football that says you’re only as good as your last game and in Giggs’ case this wasn’t one to remember. When Shakhtar applied pressure in the first half he looked very uncomfortable in tracking back and while his stamina can be marvelled he no longer possesses explosive pace to stay with runners. Giggs seems to flourish when we’re in control of a game, where he can he keep the rhythm in midfield with his passing and movement, however a congested midfield battle at his age is not Giggs’ forte. While I don’t doubt that he will contribute to our season again this term, he can’t be considered a regular starter. His inclusion only further highlights the lack of midfield options, something that you would hope is a clear sign that Moyes and more importantly perhaps Ed Woodword will be itching to address as soon as the clock turns midnight on January 1st.
3. Phil Jones the midfielder
One of the standout performers was Phil Jones in the centre of the park. He scored the goal that sealed the victory but it was his overall play that impressed many of the United faithful. He’s not considered a creative midfielder by any means but can still pass the ball and has certainly looked more comfortable in that position than Marouane Fellaini this season. He’s also not afraid to immerse himself in a challenge and he only seems to sustain an injury through over eagerness. He is certainly a leader in the making and should be a huge player for United over the next few years. His muted, perhaps angry celebration for the goal seemed to sum up what he makes of United’s recent performances; that we should have done this last week against Everton and last weekend against Newcastle. He is still a young man and may not have played as many games as say, Ferdinand or Giggs but his attitude and hunger should be something that under-performing teammates should be looking at this moment in time.
4. Writing on the wall for Anderson?
Given the lack of midfield options of late I thought Anderson may have been given a look-in here. United had qualified for the next stages and yes, wanted to win to ensure top spot but surely Anderson’s inclusion from the start wouldn’t have represented a gamble? Had he been fatigued after 55-60 minutes he could always have been substituted to make way for say, Giggs to come on and settle things down in the middle of the park. If it’s game time he needs then this game would have been ideal but the fact he didn’t feature suggests the writing is on the wall. You couldn’t blame Moyes for not rating him and it’s unfortunate for the player as he has suffered with injuries and struggled for fitness and stamina. However that’s where the sympathy ends as when we look around at the players in the squad who are just not good enough, Anderson is certainly one that falls in to that category. Moyes needs to be ruthless in the transfer market and bring quality to his midfield options and if Anderson cannot be considered for this type of game then he could well be on his way.
5. Adnan Januzaj vs. Ashley Young
Adnan Januzaj still continues to be impressive and while Tuesday’s showing wasn’t exactly a rip-roaring, standout performance from the young Belgian, it certainly is far cry from the way Ashley Young has performed all season. The latter had two excellent chances in the first half but fluffed his lines much to his and United fans dismay. Januzaj on the other hand plays with confidence and without the fear or nervousness that seems to be crippling some of the more senior players of late. Perhaps it’s his age that helps him in this regard as he only wants to enjoy his football rather than succumbing to the pressure of United’s recent struggles. He seemed to do it all alone against Sunderland back in October to earn a much-needed win but we said back then that we couldn’t expect him to do that for us every week. At this rate however you would have him in the team for most games and as for Young you would assume that Moyes has seen enough to have him accompany Anderson in looking for first-team football elsewhere.
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