No Van der Sar, no Nemanja Vidic, no Rio Ferdinand, no Jonny Evans, no John O’Shea, no Rafael, no Fabio, no Ryan Giggs, no Wayne Rooney, no Dimitar Berbatov, no Federico Macheda, no Owen Hargreaves.
Things weren’t looking good ahead of our trip to Germany.
After casting an eye over the ridiculous situation in defence, of Park at right back, Carrick and Fletcher as central defenders, without our first choice keeper Van der Sar in goal, and Evra as our only defender, you had to wonder how we were going to keep the goals out. With all the pre-match talk concerning Dzeko and how United were keen to sign him, it was natural to worry he would be up for having the game of his life against us.
The next concern was the bench, with Antonio Valencia the only player with any real experience. Where were the match winners if we needed them? Of course, nobody expected Federico Macheda to make the impact he did that day against Villa, but I’d still rather a Rooney or a Giggs on the bench, over the fantasy of a young nobody possibly making the difference.
Still, we have left Germany with our heads held high, knowing that despite missing so many players, we were still good enough to overthrow the German champions on their own soil.
There were a few early scares, it has to be noted. They had a couple of free headers in our box and should have done better with them. They also burst behind our back line before Michael Carrick slid in and should have conceded a penalty. Thankfully the ball changed direction and the referee believed that was due to Carrick’s challenge. It wasn’t.
As half-time approached, I was just relieved that the one point we needed was still in tact. Wolfsburg hadn’t looked too dangerous and we’d seen more of the ball. It was almost too good to be true when Michael Owen put us in front just before half time. He put great direction on the ball that had been delivered perfectly by Nani. The keeper had no chance and we could spend half time knowing they needed to score two goals to put our top spot finish in doubt.
When Dzeko evened the score, there was a slight panic. CSKA were still doing us a favour but I didn’t feel comfortable back at 1-1. They were becoming more and more desperate, putting the pressure on more and more, but credit to our ‘defence’. Tomasz Kuszcak made some great saves and looked totally competent between the sticks. Fletch put in some great tackles, as did Carrick, and Evra was his usual imposing self, maybe even more so with the surprise captaincy boosting his confidence.
Gabriel Obertan came on for Nani and made an instant impact. I love watching him run at players. With Obertan on one flank and Valencia on the other, two wingers who love to run at the defence, we’ll be looking the closest we have to Giggs-Kanchelskis in the early 90’s.
Obertan burst in to the box, lovely skills to beat his man, and rolled the ball across the goal mouth to present Owen with an unstoppable chance. That was top spot sealed but there was more to come. Owen’s best goal of the game was the third, as he raced almost half the length of the pitch before executing a lovely finish to put us 3-1 up. Full credit to him. These aren’t some nobodies in a nothing game. These are the champions of Germany, on their own ground, playing for their spot in the knock out stages of the Champions League. It was a massive night and Owen came up with the goods, again proving what an excellent decision it was by the manager (no matter how much I grumbled at the time!).
Whilst it’s easy to point to the three goals from Owen or the massive impact Obertan made after coming off the bench, I think the manager and his tactics need a mention. It’s not often we can salute to the manager for getting a tricky game in Europe totally right, but he totally nailed it yesterday, against all odds given the players he had to pick from.
All in all, a great result which should give us a favourable draw in the next round. We will definitely avoid Real Madrid and Bordeux, and could face Baynern Munich, AC Milan or Porto. All eyes on tonights games…