United took one step closer to Champions League qualification on Tuesday after taking a stranglehold of group B through a late Wayne Rooney goal to seal a 1-0 victory against visitors CSKA Moscow. The result in the other fixture in the group, a 2-0 win for PSV against Wolfsburg allowed United to take top spot in the group with two games to go.
The reds went into the game under scrutiny from the fans and media after three consecutive 0-0 draws and this was never going to be an easy fixture. And it proved that way as United went in at the half frustrated as it remained goalless. United controlled the first half and played with more creativity and intent than the previous couple of games, but chances were still hard to come by, the best chance falling to Marcos Rojo who smashed a close range volley into the side netting.
The second half was much of the same, United controlling and probing a sturdy CSKA defense but failing to create the vital opportunity. And it looked like it wasn't going to be United's day after a lovely United build up freed Juan Mata in the box, who squared the ball to Rooney, who's initial shot was blocked only for the rebound to fall back at his feet. With the goal gaping, he couldn't adjust his feet to put it into the open goal. It was clear that Moscow's game plan was to defend with 11 men behind the ball, but it was them who nearly snatched victory with 12 minutes to go. A cutting pass from Ahmed Musa freed the speedy substitute Seydou Doumbia who was denied brilliantly, first from David De Gea and then from the desperate slide on the line by Chris Smalling. And it was only a minute after United nearly fell behind, that they struck the critical blow to break CSKA's resistance. Michael Carrick floated a delightful pass to the side of the area to meet the impressive Jesse Lingard's run. With a cushioned volley he directed the ball into the path of Rooney who powerfully headed past goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev with only 10 minutes to go.
It was a vital victory for United and puts them in a great position to qualify, with victory against PSV in 3 weeks time all but sealing passage to the last 16. The reds welcome West Brom to Old Trafford on Saturday before the international break.
first Manchester derby of the season was not the exciting,
entertaining game all fans and neutrals would have hoped for. For the
purist, it was a show of responsibility and professionalism by two
teams who cancelled each other out with fantastic defensive
made one change from the midweek draw against CSKA Moscow, with Juan
Mata coming in for Jesse Lingard, whereas City bolstered the midfield
by giving a start to Fernando, paired with Fernandinho in the middle
with Yaya Toure playing just ahead of them.
first half came and went without a whole lot to write about. United
probably edged the play, controlling the possession and tempo but
didn't even have a shot to show for it. City looked threatening on
the counter but a blocked Raheem Sterling shot by Phil Jones was the
best chance they had.
second half was more one sided in favour of United as City really
struggled to build any troubling attacks. Again, United probed
without creating any telling chances until substitute Jesse Lingard
hit the bar with 10 minutes remaining. Anthony Martial, possibly the
most dangerous player on the pitch cut inside off his left flank and
floated a beautiful pass over the City defense to meet the run of
Lingard who on the volley, hooked the ball over Joe Hart but
agonizingly on to the crossbar, preventing him from being an instant
Old Trafford hero. And with a minute to go, a free kick floated into
the box by Ander Herrera was nodded down by substitute Marouane
Fellaini into the path of Chris Smalling whose snap shot was well
saved by Hart.
the end, both sides will be content with a point from a tense game
with very few chances. Both defenses will take the plaudits. For
United, Marcos Rojo was exceptional, maybe his best performance in
red as he kept the inform Kevin De Bruyne so nullified that Manuel
Pellegrini felt the need to change City's system to try and involve
De Bruyne more. For City, Nicolas Otamendi was their standout
performer with his aggressive defending in which he broke up the play
time and time again, making it hard for United to make decisive plays
in the final third.
stand in 4th position in the league, 2 points behind Arsenal and
travel to the dangerous Crystal Palace next week on the back of two
solid defensive performances. We also welcome Middlesbrough in the
Capital One Cup on Wednesday in which we can expect Louis Van Gaal to
make a number of changes.
Saturday's game at Goodison Park against Everton was possibly United's best performance of the season and the most complete game away from Old Trafford we've seen in quite some time. Quickfire goals from Morgan Schneiderlin and Ander Herrera in the first half and a Rooney goal in the second capped off a fine 3-0 victory for the reds.
United controlled the possession and tempo of the first half and they were soon rewarded in the 18th minute with a goal from Morgan Schneiderlin, his first for United in a competitive game. A Juan Mata corner caused Everton problems and the ball fell nicely to Schneiderlin who calmly slotted the ball into the far corner from 12 yards out.
And it didn't take long for the reds to double their advantage in the 22nd minute through Ander Herrera. United built up the play well and the ball eventually found it's way out to Marcos Rojo on the left touchline after a fine advantage was played by referee Jonathon Moss on a foul by Seamus Coleman on Anthony Martial. Rojo curled in a fantastic ball to the unmarked Herrera who finished well with a glancing header, incidentally United's first headed goal of the season.
Everton came out stronger in the second half and United withstood some early pressure well, with the help of a couple of good saves from David De Gea, in particular one saved with his feet to deny Romelu Lukaku from 12 yards out.
But the game was all but over in the 62nd minute as Wayne Rooney scored his first away goal in 11 months. A poor pass from Everton defended Phil Jagielka was intercepted by Schneirderlin, who passed the ball to Herrera and he played a perfect through ball behind the defence for Rooney to latch on to. One on One with Tim Howard, Rooney scored with a composed finish to cap off an emphatic away win.
It could have been more as United continued to create chances as Everton tired. Anthony Martial in particular shone in the latter stages as he gave Seamus Coleman a torrid time, continuously getting in behind him. But unfortunately a 4th goal never came.
The victory was a great response after the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal and should fill us with confidence heading into the most significant derby match in a couple of seasons, with victory taking us ahead of City.