1. When David Moyes was appointed the manager of Manchester United, our biggest concern was his lack of experience in Europe. Whilst the new manager hasn’t done as well as we would have liked in the league, our results in Europe have been spot on. Bayer Leverkusen are currently on the same points as European Cup finalists Borussia Dortmund and one point behind German and European champions Bayern Munich, yet we beat them 4-2 at Old Trafford. Away to Shakhtar in Ukraine we picked up a point, after probably deserving all three, at a ground where no English team has won before. Real Sociedad are not a great side and we didn’t put in a brilliant performance, but we were clearly the better team and managed to pick up another important win. We essentially need to win one game from our remaining three to qualify for the next round, which is a great position to be in.
2. Jonny Evans and Phil Jones were two stand out performers for me again last night, playing with a composure and maturity beyond their years. With the silly mistakes that have been all too frequent for Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, you have to wonder whether this is the changing of the guard for our defence, with the youngsters looking more than capable of holding their own.
3. It was reassuring to see a big improvement in Wayne Rooney’s performance after his game against Southampton. He was the driving force behind our only goal of the game after dancing around the Spanish defence. Such delicate footwork saw him twist and turn between the defenders before his shot came back off the inside of the post. Thankfully there was a Sociedad defender there to put it away for us. Javier Hernandez was there waiting had the defender not done the job for him though. The lack of ability to finish across the team was a worry though, with us hitting the woodwork a couple of times and seeing good opportunities go begging. Hernandez will be particularly disappointed that he didn’t make the most his start in Robin van Persie’s absence. He had a great chance to put us 2-0 up but, typically, was offside when he scored.
4. Shinji Kagawa was given a rare start and did more than Chicharito to make Moyes consider playing him again. He has been largely overlooked this season but had a good game yesterday. It maybe wasn’t as good as people are saying it was, so desperate for him to become the player we all think he is capable of being, but we were certainly shown glimpses. He did well on the left but came in to his own when moved centrally behind Rooney for the last ten minutes or so. He should have scored, making a hash of his chance when clean through, but his eagerness for the ball and to bring it forward was a definite positive. We noticed in games last season that when he hit the hour mark, he’d start to go missing, so it was great to see improved stamina which meant his best part of the game came at the end. Can Moyes justify dropping Rooney or Januzaj to accommodate Kagawa? Not yet. But let’s hope he’s given more opportunities in the cup games and from the bench in the league to show what he is capable of. Moyes was singing his praises after the game so maybe this is the beginning of change for Kagawa.
5. Last night saw the launch of the singing section in the South East quadrant, in a bid to improve atmosphere in the ground. The section that is usually filled by away supporters apparently has the best acoustics which is why that spot was chosen. With 6,000 Spaniards sitting above them you had to wonder whether they would be drowned out, but they actually did a good job. The noise carried all the way to the other end of the ground and even had the Stretford End echoing the chants started down there. Plenty of people will be cynical about it and mock the very idea of needing a singing section. But I’d rather people take the piss out of that and us actually start to have a really good atmosphere than just take the piss out of it being quiet. “The singing section was very good,” Moyes said after the game. “They were heard and they were noisy. They did something similar at Celtic and it has been really good. It is important. If you are an old-fashioned supporter you want to sing and you want to join in. Sometimes you need people to start it.”
6. There were lots of grumbles, from myself included, when Giggs was named as a starting central midfielder. But he did a job for us last night, despite the odd few “typical Giggs” misplaced lobs forward. When you compare that display to Marouane Fellaini’s at the weekend, the Belgian has got to be scratching his head. If a 39-year-old winger is doing a better job than you in the centre of the park, you should be worried.
7. It’s hard to believe that the officials chosen for Champions League games are the best Europe have to offer. Even with extra officials there behind the goals they just couldn’t seem to make a decision between them and when they did it too often seemed to be the wrong one. I’m not calling bias here, because the Sociedad players and fans were complaining as much as we were. Rafael da Silva was subbed off early as a result, with his hot head and that bonkers ref meaning disaster was on the cards. Chris Smalling did well when he came on though. He could start week in week out for most clubs so it’s a shame for him to have such a small role at United.
8. With three games played in Europe, we have more points than any of the other English teams have managed, and we sit top of the group. Apart from a dodgy spell early in to the second half, United controlled the game and have put themselves in a great position to qualify. The ideal scenario is that we beat Sociedad away next month, meaning we can rotate our squad massively for the final two games to free up key players for the league, whilst giving those who haven’t had much game time the full 90 minutes. Looking good in Europe though. Onwards and upwards.
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