Rooney rediscovers trademark touch as United finish on top

Manchester United 1 Valencia 1
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The Independent Online

One of the joys of Sir Alex Ferguson is his unpredictability. It can be expressed in riding pillion on a motorbike through the streets of Paris to persuade Eric Cantona to remain at Old Trafford. Or it could be jetting off to the Middle East to argue that the World Cup should go to Qatar, a regime that would have raised more than a quizzical eyebrow if the young, football-besotted trade unionist had ever exchanged the cold waters of the Clyde for the Arabian Gulf in the 1960s.

However, when it comes to the Champions League, the Manchester United manager has a fixed mantra. Ten points will be enough to qualify and it does not matter if you finish first or second in your group.

This time it was different. Ferguson acutely wanted Manchester United to finish first and thus avoid the prospect of facing Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich, all of whom were guaranteed to top their groups. This United achieved in more style than the scoreline suggests and, although Rio Ferdinand came off with a hamstring strain, he is expected to be fit to face Arsenal here on Monday night.

Ferguson selected something close to his first-choice side for what might have been considered a dead match – although with a typical twist he chose Ben Amos, aged 20 and someone with minimal first-team experience, to keep goal.

It was a gamble that was rewarded in both the result and the performance, although the perfectionist in Ferguson would have wanted the win his side deserved in terms of sheer weight of chances. Dimitar Berbatov, whose last appearance at Old Trafford had seen him score five in the humbling of Blackburn, had enough chances for at least another three.

However, perhaps the most pleasing aspect of the night was that the rebirth of Wayne Rooney, which began in the previous round at Ibrox, is now almost complete. You could see it in the way he sent a delightful chip on to the Valencia crossbar, the snap shot that whistled past the post or some driving, muscular runs. The confusion in his game, the uncertainty in his boots that clogged his game all seem to have been washed away.

"He is getting there quick," his manager reflected. "His distribution and his leading of the line were terrific. The partnership with Berbatov is starting to gel; you can see it coming through in flashes. We played well and there were a lot of chances – Berbatov could have scored another five tonight."

It was a night in which two men who are nominally their clubs' third-choice keepers shone. Vicente Guaita started through necessity – his two colleagues were injured. Amos was in goal through choice. The 20-year-old has yet to start a Premier League game for Manchester United and his brief career has seen him loaned out at Peterborough and then Molde in Norway. His manager, however, has always made it clear that the boy from Macclesfield has a long-term future on the grandest of stages and with Edwin van der Sar rested, Ferguson went for Amos ahead of Tomasz Kuszczak. It may have been a coincidence but Kuszczak had conceded four in the Carling Cup debacle at West Ham.

In no way was Amos responsible for the goal with which Valencia opened up the match with just over half an hour gone. Guaita had just made a fabulous save with his feet as Rooney delivered a deep cross that was aimed at Berbatov but was met by Park Ji-sung on the volley. The shot thundered against the keeper's track-suited legs leaving the Korean stretched out on the mist-sodden turf like a beaten boxer.

Then play switched towards the Stretford End as Michael Carrick, who is enduring a forgettable season, lost possession to Alejandro Dominguez, who hitherto had been Valencia's most threatening player. He drove forward and, although there was an obvious pass to his left, he found Pablo Hernandez to his right. Two touches later and Manchester United had conceded their first goal in the Champions League since Arjen Robben's astonishing volley gave Bayern Munich a quarter-final victory last season. A result which Ferguson seems yet to have come to terms with.

Otherwise, Amos performed admirably. With a quarter of an hour gone, he was greeted with a dipping, viciously swerving shot from Dominguez and answered with a fine save at his near post. Then Dominguez, one of a stream of Argentinian footballers to have graced the Mestalla, burst through and delivered a shot that struck the outside of the post, although Amos had it covered. As someone who had two spells playing in the foothills of the Urals with Rubin Kazan, Dominguez would have thought the cold rolling off the Pennines trifling.

Nevertheless, United recovered their balance and kept attacking, although their manager thought they eased off when they were level. It appeared a matter of time before they equalised and that time arrived in the 62nd minute.

This has been the season in which Park has emerged from comparative and undeserved shadows. In this campaign he seems overflowing with confidence and delivered a shot that Guaita punched spectacularly away only to find Anderson closing in on the rebound. Ferguson leapt to his feet, the meeting with Jose Mourinho or Barcelona postponed for now.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Amos; R Da Silva, Ferdinand (Smalling, 50), Vidic, F Da Silva; Nani (Giggs, 81), Carrick, Anderson (Fletcher, 90), Park; Rooney, Berbatov. Substitutes not used Kuszczak (gk), Hernandez, Obertan, Macheda.

Valencia (4-4-1-1): Guaita; Miguel, Ricardo Costa, Dealbert, Mathieu; Pablo (Feghouli, 81), Banega, Albedela, Alba (Mata, 67); Dominguez (Isco, 55); Arduiz. Substitutes not used Cesar Sanchez (gk), Maduro, Soldado, Tino Costa.

Booked: Man Utd Anderson. Valencia Albedela, Miguel.

Referee: P Proenca (Portugal)

Man of the match: Rooney

Attendance: 74,513

Group C

Results: Bursaspor 0-4 Valencia, Man Utd 0-0 Rangers; Rangers 1-0 Bursaspor, Valencia 0-1 Man Utd; Man Utd 1-0 Bursaspor, Rangers 1-1 Valencia; Bursaspor 0-3 Man Utd, Valencia 3-0 Rangers; Valencia 6-1 Bursaspor, Rangers 0-1 Man Utd; Bursaspor 1-1 Rangers, Man Utd 1-1 Valencia.

Bursaspor 1-1 Rangers

Kenny Miller scored his 19th goal of the season but Rangers could only end their campaign with a draw in Turkey. The striker broke the deadlock in the 19th minute when he lashed a left-footed shot from 12 yards past Yavuz Ozkan. However, Rangers were forced to defend for most of the second half and in the 79th minute Sercan Yildirim stabbed the ball past Allan McGregor.

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