Galatasaray hand harsh lesson to Fergie’s fledglings
A defeat without consequence on a night when the only damage suffered by Manchester United was to the ear-drums of their players.
Having earned the luxury of being able to lose their final two games and still qualify as group winners, United were outdone by Galatasaray's hunger and desire for victory, but this was as painless a defeat as could be suffered by Alex Ferguson's youthful team.
There may be inquests into the ease with which Burak Yilmaz was able to score the goal which ended United's 100pc record in this competition, but Ferguson's players may actually benefit from experiencing defeat in such a testing atmosphere.
Having secured qualification, with two games to spare, Ferguson had made it clear that he would turn to fringe players and youngsters, such as Alex Buttner and Nick Powell, having left seven senior players in Manchester.
Ferguson has paid the price for such rotation against Turkish opponents in the past, with both Fenerbahce and Besiktas claiming Champions League victories against under-strength United teams, but this was a no-lose situation for the visitors, with nothing at stake with the exception of prize money and co-efficient points – hardly the juiciest of carrots.
In contrast, however, Galatasaray coach Fatih Terim had described the match as "one of the most important games in our club's history" in the knowledge that victory would put the Turkish champions on the brink of qualification as runners-up.
As such, the atmosphere inside the Turk Telekom Arena lived up to the ferocious hostility that had been predicted. It was bedlam from the moment the players emerged to warm up 45 minutes before kick-off and the volume increased once the game began.
For United's young team, whose average age was a youthful 23 years and 10 months, it was like being subjected to 43,000 blasts of Ferguson's infamous hairdryer, with a Galatasaray banner declaring that 'No Mercy Will Be Shown' emphasising the frenzied state of the home supporters.
United were fortunate, however, that the Galatasaray players did not live up to the standards set by their fans and Ferguson's team negotiated a comfortable first half, save for one strong penalty claim which was dismissed by Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo.
With Anders Lindegaard saving Hamit Altintop's 20-yard shot on 34 minutes, Selcuk Inan attempted to cross the loose ball back into the 18-yard box, but his delivery was clearly blocked by Buttner's right hand.
United played on, however, and they almost broke the deadlock moments later when the impressive Powell hit the crossbar with a powerful header from Tom Cleverley's cross.
Falling behind would have been harsh on Galatasaray, but United were playing well within themselves. The only danger appeared to come from the over-zealous tackles committed by the home side, whose enthusiasm bordered on the reckless, with the cynical Brazilian, Felipe Melo, a repeat offender.
Despite his mastery of the dark arts, though, Melo is also a player capable of firing up his team-mates and it was his intervention early in the second half that pre-empted Galatasaray's breakthrough goal.
With news of Cluj's commanding lead at home to Braga being flashed on the stadium's big screens, Galatasaray knew that they simply had to raise their game in order to remain in control of their Champions League fate.
And Melo summoned the increased support of the raucous home fans by urging them to crank up the decibel levels another notch with a display of fist-pumping after his powerful header had been tipped over by Lindegaard on 53 minutes.
The crowd responded and, from the corner which followed Lindegaard's save, Yilmaz outjumped the static Powell to claim his fifth Champions League goal of the season to put Galatasaray ahead.
United attempted to respond, with Javier Hernandez and Anderson both having shots blocked, but their fightback seemed half-hearted.
They did not need to win, they were not fuelled by the same desire as Galatasaray, and it showed.
Only one team was pulling out the stops for another goal and it was Galatasaray, who were denied a second when Altintop's 20-yard strike was tipped onto the bar.
Still, if United could ever afford a defeat, this was the time.
There will be no such free passes in the knock-out stages, though. ( © Daily Telegraph, London)