United cruised out of the group stages last night after beating Dynamo Kiev 4-0 at Old Trafford. Despite making five changes to the side that drew with Arsenal at the weekend, United always looked in control, and it was a matter of when rather than if we would score.
Gerard Pique opened the scoring for us with half an hour played, finishing well from a deflected free kick in to the box. He clearly enjoyed the goal, as did the fans, who are always eager to see more of our players put their head on the ball and score from a cross. Gone are the days of Pallister and Bruce, so it is warming to see the likes of Vidic, Ferdinand and Vidic all scoring this season.
Six minutes later, Tevez popped up to score our second, playing a one-two with Rooney, before drilling the ball past the keeper, who arguably could have done better. It was the sheer power in Tevez’s shot which left the keeper unable to save.
Kuszczack came on at the start of the second half, replacing Van der Sar who apparently suffered a foot injury, and we saw one fine save from our second choice keeper. He is certainly looking more comfortable and competent between the sticks.
The crowd were eager for another goal as United played Kiev off the pitch, but we had to wait until the 75th minute before Rooney, who had been extremely quiet up until that point, tapped in from close range after Nani delivered the perfect ball. They made it look easy. It surely has to be a sign of a World class player, for him to have a quiet match, but still score one and assist another. We saw the same from Ronaldo at the weekend, but last night it was Rooney’s turn.
A great piece of individual skill saw United 4-0 up. Ronaldo charged in to the area, changed direction instantaneously with a clever flick, and shot with power from a difficult angle. The points had been wrapped up seemingly before even a ball was kicked, but it was nice to see the scoreboard bragging another four goals for the Champions. United have now scored twenty two goals in their past six games, with nine goals in the past nine games for Rooney, representing club and country.
The early qualification should leave us with a great opportunity to spoil our youth and fringe players with some European action. When asked if United were aiming to top the group last night, Ferguson replied, “Oh yes, it’s very important. I think if we win the next game that’s us winning the group and that’s what we intend to do.” This poses an interesting question though, when considering our youth and fringe players lost 2-0 to Coventry at home. A side which boasted the appearances of Carrick, Brown, Anderson, Nani and O’Shea, on top of the starters Pique, Evans, Simpson, Eagles and Martin, was gutlessly kicked out of the Carling Cup just over a month ago. Will Ferguson trust them to guide United to the top of the group?
United are set to play three games in nine days at the end of November/start of December, with a home game against Sporting in between matches against Bolton and Fulham in the league. The following week, we go on to play three matches in eight days, the Roma clash away being sandwiched between the Derby and dippers matches. It would be madness for Ferguson to start our strongest team for these European games, with the league having to take priority. But his ability to trust the failed team who were booted out of the cup certainly comes in to question. Ferguson was livid at the time, shipping several players off on loan immediately.
I think the likes of Pique and Simpson certainly proved their worth last night, and did not look out of depth. Simpson looked more natural bombing down the wing than Wesley usually does, and also had a decent attempt on goal. I think it’s time for Fergie to forgive and forget, and give our second string another chance. With Fletcher not managing a spot on the sub’s bench, even with Scholes’ injury, it is a good opportunity for players like him, O’Shea, Carrick and Nani to show the boss why they should be picked every week.
All in all, it was a good night out for the reds, and we must be setting alarm bells ringing all over Europe. We’re emerging as the team to beat in this year’s Champions League, and I hope whichever team Ferguson picks for the remaining games, it is a team who secures us top spot. With Real Madrid, AC Milan, Barcelona and Inter Milan amongst the teams we could play if we finished second, it seems the strength of the competition a few years ago has softened. We can no longer say it doesn’t make a difference whether you finish first or second in the group, as Fenerbache, Rangers, Shakhtar Donetsk/Celtic and Rosenborg are the sides we could be drawn against if finishing top. To win this competition you’d like to think you have to be able to beat anyone, and in 1999, we beat the best of the best in the lead up to the final, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t prefer a softer option in the next round.
So onwards and upwards, four wins out of four, and United are flying high.
Which lineup do you want to see Ferguson put out for Roma and Sporting?