Sir Alex Ferguson could see the positives from last night’s defeat in Galatasaray, after the early success of Manchester United’s Champions League campaign. The result made no difference to United’s progress or position. They have already ensured first place in Group H, having won their first four matches.
So Ferguson left almost all of his senior players in Manchester last night, including strikers Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, and veterans Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.
It was a perfect opportunity, then, for Sir Alex Ferguson to give some of his younger players a taste of the unique atmosphere of the Turk Telecom Arena. Nick Powell made his first start for United at the tip of Ferguson’s diamond midfield. The only slightly older Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck started too, with Phil Jones making his first appearance of the season.
United, ultimately, were outmuscled by a Galatasaray side with much more to play for. Buruk Yilmaz leaped highest to head in a corner kick early in the second half but the hosts had the better of the chances.
Ferguson, though, was pleased with how his players performed. “The tempo was good, the crowd never affected them, the possession was good as was the attacking play without finishing them off. We had good opportunities in both halves. I thought we handled it ok.”
Certainly this game had more resting on it for Galatasaray than it did for Manchester United, as they hoped to finish second ahead of CFR Cluj or Braga. So they started at a fierce pace, with Felipe Melo and Semih Kaya jumping into tackles which they were fortunate to stay on the pitch for. Their best chance was a Burak Yilmaz header from a free-kick which flew over the bar.
United did play with nous and intelligence. Welbeck was their most impressive player, running the channels, holding up the ball and taking on defenders with regular success. A corner kick which he won just before the break was taken by Cleverly and headed onto the bar by Powell.
But it was a corner kick for Galatasaray which brought the opening goal. The hosts started the second half with as much energy as they did the first but more precision. Anders Lindegaard had to save twice before the decisive corner. Selcuk Inan swung the ball in and Yilmaz rose highest and headed the ball over Rafael and into the net.
Jones admitted United should have kept it out. “We should have switched on, it does happen” said the young defender. “We got punished, it just wasn’t our night.”
Galatasaray, once ahead, were roared forward by their magnificent support. The game opened up, though, and United did have some chances through Welbeck and Javier Hernandez.
United could not equalise, but this was certainly not as dispiriting as Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Norwich. “I thought we played extremely well,” said Darren Fletcher. “All the young players who played tonight did fantastic. To play in an atmosphere like this will put them in good stead for the future.”
Man of the match Welbeck.
Match rating 3/10.
Referee C V Carballo (Sp).