Date: 20th September 2007 at 2:25pm
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A fourth straight 1-0 win. It’s only a matter of time that people start drawing parallels with the Arsenal of… well, pretty much every season before Wenger.

You know, I assume, how computers work? I’m not an expert at such matters but they use only two numbers to calculate every task: 0 and 1. United act along the same lines nowadays and it was Sporting’s turn to reflect bitterly that the game’s first concerted attack sealed the win.

Fergie shocked everyone (OK, he shocked me and my mates and every other United fan we talked to but that’s still not a proper sample, I know) by including Rooney in the starting line-up. Of course, it came as no real surprise that he was the only striker, with Tevez and Saha both benched.

He did OK: he received the ball three times, I think, in the first half and did not lose it at those occasions. The team, however, lost it quite often as Sporting’s midfield pressure was at a high level in the early stages.

The hosts did not have difficult and detailed plans in attack. It seemed that Paulo Bento ordered them to shoot at every opportunity and his players did not let him down in that sense. But only one of these efforts caused real problems, I think it was Liédson who drew a really good save from Edwin.

Of course it was more than what United could show for their efforts in the first 45 minutes. Ronaldo and Nani did not penetrate the wide areas, Scholes and Carrick were usually stuck in their own half thus Rooney became absolutely isolated.

At half-time, I cried for the introduction of Louis Saha but it would have been foolish to expect Fergie to make a substitution at half-time of a difficult European away fixture.

Still, United gradually assumed control in the second half. Sporting were well and truly stifled, they did not pose any real threat up front. Liédson and Moutinho both failed to live up to their reputation, in my opinion at least. But sloppy passing and lack of understanding undermined our efforts, too and the game edged towards a 0-0 draw…

And then came the first really good attack of the game. And came Cristiano Ronaldo who had a quiet night on his big return. No jeers but no frantic applause, no hero’s welcome – and he was subdued, offered little in terms of his usual sparkling play.

Then Carrick passed the ball to Scholes, who found Brown on the right and Wes’ first accurate cross was perfect for Ronaldo who headed it into the net. His celebration was understandably muted and here I must applaud the sportsmanship of the Portuguese crowd: they rose to their feet to acknowledge their former hero.

They did likewise when the winger was substituted but between the two events, United had to survive some scares, especially when the confident Van der Sar had to make a really good save from a header. But apart from that, Sporting did not look like a side that would equalise. United, however, became threatening on the break. Saha came on for Rooney and Ronaldo found his feet: mazy dribbles, clinical passes and well-timed runs followed each other but another goal did not come though we had the chances to seal the win.

In the end, it turned out to be a fairly comfortable victory and a perfect start to our Champions League campaign. But it would be tremendous if we finally started scoring goals…