Michael Carrick's early blow gives jittery Manchester United the edge over Galatasaray
Manchester United 1 Galatasaray 0: Old Trafford's European aura will take some time to be restored, it seems
There was a very striking omission from the team shot of Manchester United which adorned the centre pages of last night's match programme. It was silverware, and finding some to fill the space where only grass now grows under the players' feet will be a task fraught with pitfalls, judging by the club's return to the European stage.
The Champions League campaign was only two minutes old when a very strong penalty appeal brought all the demons of the last European season flooding right back and cheapened Sir Alex Ferguson's promises that the old carelessness belonged in the past.
The suggestion that Nemanja Vidic, blind-sided by Umut Bulut, had tripped him, was waved away by referee Wolfgang Stark – an oversight which did United a very substantial favour. Three strikes of the woodwork, two very fine David de Gea saves and 90 minutes later, the game ended as it had started, with another extremely reasonable Turkish penalty appeal, all of which gave rise to feeling that very little has changed in Europe where United are concerned. Old Trafford European's aura will clearly take some time to be restored. The way in which the Turkish side attacked demonstrated that it has certainly lost a little of its impregnability.
Fleetingly, something of the new was evident in United, too – the wonderful spectacle of Shinji Kagawa, a player of such imagination and ideas whose European debut for Ferguson offered no less of the promise that a young David Beckham did, on the night here against Galatasaray in which he scored his first United goal in a 4-0 win, 18 years ago.
The game was only seven minutes old when Kagawa's neat return pass to Michael Carrick took the Englishman in on goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, where he maintained his balance after the advancing keeper clipped him, and dragged a leg into the shot which put United ahead. Muslera could be thankful for small mercies. Had Carrick had gone to ground, the goalkeeper would have gone from the field.
Riches seemed to be United's in that moment. Paul Scholes's selection for this game – which suggests that Liverpool can rest easy about him starting at Anfield on Sunday – gifted the first-half with his own inimitably sublime passing and Carrick's drive forwards caught the eye, too.
But the uncharacteristically poor crossing from Antonio Valencia checked United's progress. There were three poor centres from the Ecuadorean in the space of fewer than 30 first-half minutes and even though Muslera required some athleticism to clip the Ecuadorean's 22nd-minute cross out of the air, the goalkeeper just wasn't challenged enough.
It was when out of possession that United's real problems came, because the Turkish central midfield pair were quite capable of exploiting them. Rafael da Silva's all-too frequent positional failure allowed Nordin Amrabat a 20-yard advance up the field to graze the bar. On the opposite flank, Patrice Evra earned a booking for raking his studs down the leg of dangerous Hamit Altintop, who tested the post when he arrived to meet the ensuing free kick.
There would have been some immediate breathing space, had United not conspired to mess up their third successive penalty kick in as many games, after another first-time ball by Scholes out to Rafael sparked a penetrating run into the box, which Burak Yilmaz brought to an illegal end.
After the misses by Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez, this time Nani was the culprit. It was the dummy, not the dink, for him but the outcome was equally miserable – a pitifully tame low effort which Muslera could comfortably punch away.
"I had no idea," said Ferguson, to the question of why Nani took the kick. "I think Nani just ran and grabbed the ball. I think Robin should have taken it, to be honest with you. We will have to decide before the game. That was my fault. I should have done that."
When Selcuk Inan found the United woodwork for a third time – getting in ahead of the first defender Jonny Evans from Altintop's cross – it felt like the profligacy could be costly. As the game reached its last half-hour United lost their energy, Nani aside. Kagawa slipped out of the picture. Van Persie never really entered it in the first place.
Vidic met an Evra corner with a powerful header but was booked for a foul on Vilmaz and Nani sent in Evra for a shot which flew across the goal. Galatasaray responded almost immediately, capitalising with a rapid counter-attack when a United short corner didn't work out. David de Gea parried the shot Johan Elmander, a first half substitute, sent straight at him, but it was the second save – the Spaniard arcing to touch Amrabat's effort over the bar – which really delivered a message to manager who has not selected him for the past month.
There was grandstand return for Darren Fletcher, missing since 22 November, when the bowel condition which he will never entirely be rid of, confined him to a long road to recovery. Fletcher's last game had been the 2-2 home draw with Benfica in which United had not looked invincible. Which only went to reinforce the sense of the recent past repeating itself.
Man of the match Carrick.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee P Proenca (Port).
Last night's penalty miss by Nani was Manchester United's third in consecutive matches, following previous failures by Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez.
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