Manchester United 0 CFR Cluj 1 (Alberto)
1. Dull atmosphere, dull performance. We had already qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League so changes were expected and they came. Wayne Rooney was the only player who started against Reading and Cluj.
Despite all the changes, we had plenty of talent in the pitch with the likes of Hernandez, Welbeck, Cleverley and Smalling all playing – but they didn’t deliver.
It was the performance of a team who had already qualified as group winners. We didn’t have the desire to chase the ball down, to pressure Cluj and take the game to them but credit to Cluj, their winner was a superb strike.
The game might not have meant anything in reality but a win ahead of Sunday’s showdown with Manchester City would not have gone amiss.
2. The positives to take. Not everything was terrible last night and the performance of Danny Welbeck was the stand out positive for me. Everywhere you look at United, the strikers are looking extremely good. Even when the praise is being heaped on Rooney, van Persie and Hernandez, Welbeck comes up with a performance that is full of hunger and desire.
Out of all the strikers at United, he is the best with the ball at his feet. His touch and ease in possession reminds of Dimitar Berbatov at times and his unrivalled work rate makes him such a hit with the fans. It is a shame that we couldn’t make of the opportunities he created.
The competition for places up front at United has brought the best out of all our strikers. All four are playing fantastic this season and if it wasn’t for our goalscoring antics, we could already be out of the title race given our leaky defence.
As well as Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez looked extremely sharp but didn’t get enough service and Scott Wootton did very well in his first Champions League start for Manchester United.
3. United’s midfield ahead of Sunday. Take nothing away from the quality of Cluj’s winner, it was a super strike, but it simply wouldn’t of happened had we had different players in our midfield.
Giggs and Scholes, with a combined age of 78, found themselves high up the pitch and Cluj had a free run at our defence who had to back off and mark their men. Without pressure on him, Luis Alberto waltzed through the middle and had plenty of space for his shot. Had Anderson, Cleverley or even Carrick been on the pitch, it wouldn’t have been the case because the space would of been shut down.
I love Giggs and Scholes, try and find a United fan who doesn’t, but we can’t afford to have them as our central midfield pairing. On Sunday, if they played there together, Yaya Toure would gallop past and leave them eating his dust. It was in the midfield we lost the match last year at the Etihad with Park Ji Sung playing his first match of the year to combat Yaya Toure.
It’s a mini crisis of sorts with Anderson and Cleverley out but with both players sidelined, I expect to see Wayne Rooney start in the central midfield role to give us that energy we need.
4. Goalkeeper roulette. So, David de Gea came back between the sticks again last night after Anders Lindegaard’s shaky performance against Reading. He didn’t do too badly but looked like a goalkeeper lacking confidence, unsurprisingly.
Who will play on Sunday? Toss a coin, that’s probably how Sir Alex decides these days. The longer this roulette keeps going on, the longer we will be without a top goalkeeper we can rely on.
One thing I noticed last night was that de Gea was far more commanding in and around his area. That’s a positive, but it needs to be built on. You can’t go dropping him for the next game and keep hoping to see improvements.
5. English spine for the future. Smalling, Jones, Wootton, Cleverley, Powell, Welbeck. One positive to always take from games like last night is getting to see through the looking glass for the future. We had six young English lads on the pitch last night, four graduates from our youth academy, which makes it over 3,600 consecutive games that Manchester United have had at least one youth academy graduate playing.