Nani magic fails to take minds off want-away Wayne
Manchester Utd 1
ON a night of intermittent protest against the reviled Glazers, Manchester United took an early lead through Nani and briefly looked ready to make a statement of ambition to match Wayne Rooney's.
Sadly, United failed to dominate, missing the chance of a Turkey shoot, although they do have one foot in the knock-out rounds.
United had some ambition, particularly when Nani had possession, but had no real cutting edge with Federico Macheda disappointing. Rooney must have watched these labours from afar and felt vindicated in his questioning of United's squad strength.
Old Trafford certainly had some questions -- for the Glazers, the American owners who have made such a successful club so synonymous with debt. United fans now plan a march against the Glazers before the Tottenham Hotspur game. The Stretford End certainly made its view of Rooney very clear, two banners catching the mood: "Colleen forgave you Wayne, but we won't'' and "Who's the whore now?''
Strong stuff, certainly stronger than a poor game. Nani impressed, as did Darren Fletcher, while Chris Smalling confirmed his burgeoning reputation at the back, but this was hardly a performance to strike fear into Europe's elite.
After Rooney's statement, Ferguson had really needed his players to make a statement of their own. It was hardly the most experienced or illustrious of starting line-ups, lacking Dimitar Berbatov, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand, Javier Hernandez and you know who.
No matter. Reports of United's demise have been exaggerated and Ferguson's young Turks tore into the Turks, seizing the lead within six minutes through Nani.
Rafael began the move, playing the ball from the right flank inside to Fletcher. United's game-plan had been to circulate the ball quickly, catching Bursaspor out with the speed of their movement. Fletcher swiftly transferred the ball to Nani, who clearly had only one intent.
Working the ball on to his left foot, the Portuguese international let fly from 20 yards, his shot racing between Dimitar Ivankov and the Bulgarian's right-hand upright. It was a sumptuous strike, signalling the enduring ambition in the red ranks.
Their noses in front, United dominated possession, but could not add to their lead for the rest of the half that faded to grey. For a while, United were full of pacey purpose, particularly Nani and Rafael driving down the right, Anderson charging through the middle and Patrice Evra on the left.
So committed to attack, United inevitably left gaps at the back and Bursa's lone front-runner, Sercan Yildirim, briefly exploited space behind Rafael until United slammed the door closed. A minute after Nemanja Vidic had flicked a header wide, Bursaspor went through the gears. Vidic was caught in possession by Ozan Ipek, who sped into the box. Rafael reacted superbly, arriving from the right and using his upper-body strength and timing to slide in nick the ball away from Ipek.
With United needing leaders in a time of trouble, Ferguson could have done with Michael Carrick stepping up to the challenge. Gifted technically, Carrick remains a frustrating enigma, failing to impose his gifts more fully on proceedings. Fletcher, a lesser footballer, delivers more.
Carrick and Fletcher attempted to slide balls through to Macheda, United's lone centre-forward. The Italian buzzed around in his usual manner but he remains a raw prospect, needing to acquire a greater knowledge of penalty-box ring-craft.
A low-key game needed stoking up. A brief bout of petulance broke out as the half closed. Tussling for possession, Nani flicked a foot at Ipek, who retaliated with a push to the head.
It was a battle of the bantamweights, and the referee, Gianluca Rocchi, booked both.
There was a momentary scare for United just after the hour-mark when Evra, having over-run the ball, was caught by Ali Tandogan, who injured himself and departed on a stretcher.
Nani continued to impress, gliding down the left and lifting an inviting cross to the far-post, but Ivankov was untroubled as he grasped the ball.
Macheda sparked into life, muscling his way into the box in pursuit of Fletcher's pass. The Italian made good ground, but Bursa blocked him out.
If Rooney was tuning in, he could have been forgiven for switching off. It was poor fare, the game losing its way in the second half.
Nani attempted to force a second. Rafael's excellent pass down the right released Fletcher, who swept over a cross that the Portuguese controlled well. United's best player on the night did a shimmy to create a yard of space. This time his right foot came down, making firm contact, but his shot was placed too close to Ivankov.
Ferguson sought to shake things up, sending on Hernandez, who almost scored with a low shot following good work by Fletcher.
Gabriel Obertan had also arrived and delighted the Stretford End with a few step-overs.
But it was all over bar the shouting against the Glazers. (© Daily Telegraph, London)