Date: 26th November 2009 at 12:53pm
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OK, I don’t try to hide it: this game’s been a big disappointment. After a reasonably good first half United fell to pieces in the second and never looked like building up a head of steam – and ended up losing against a desperately limited Besiktas side. This is our first home defeat in the Champions League group stages since 2001; this is our first home defeat in the competition since 2005 when Milan won here after an excruciatingly composed performance.

OK, there are mitigating circumstances of course. It was a very unfamiliar line-up with lost of youngsters; the game was practically a dead rubber as our qualification was secure. And yet it was disappointing that we could not assert ourselves against the Turkish side, that we could not make anything of all the possession in the world.

First place in the group is in peril but looking at the potential opponents it might not matter: finishing first we could still play Juventus, Inter, Milan or even Barcelona or Real Madrid, depending on the results of the last game. So the actual damage done to our chances is very little, especially as we’re likely to finish top anyway (if CSKA beat Besiktas we’ll win the group even with a loss at Wolfsburg).

Yet the first half was so promising; only a goal was absent but we were utterly dominant and though the closing down was absurdly bad, non-existent almost, at Tello’s goal, we could be pleased with the youngsters. Gibson was very wayward in his passing but he was tremendous at retrieving the ball; Macheda and Welbeck worked tirelessly and got into very good positions; Obertan showed plenty of promise, displaying pace and skill.

We all expected more of the same in the second half, preferably with a goal or two thrown in to ensure top spot in the group but, as I have said, United fell to pieces. We could not string two passes together, we could not get the ball inside the box, we could not get shots on target – NOTHING. It was excruciating, to be honest.

I think Fergie made a mistake. Bringing on Owen first made no sense whatsoever: what did he expect of him? Our passing wasn’t working at all, we could not get past a line about 25 yards from goal – how was Owen supposed to change that? I guess Park was taken off as he had just returned from injury and had been tired by that time. Which is OK; but why bring on a striker who could make no difference without proper service from midfield? Welbeck was shunted out onto the left where he is competent but by no means great: it deprived the team of that little balance left.

It would have been a better bet to take Gibson off earlier (around the 60th minute mark) and introduce either Scholes or Carrick, in order to gain a measure of control and to improve our passing. Take off Park, all right but send on Nani or even Evra to play left winger, not Welbeck…

When Fergie DID introduce Carrick and Evra it was too little, too late. Granted, we should have had a penalty when Pat was obstructed in the box and Macheda and Brown could both have equalised in the closing minutes but for two fantastic saves from Rustu but in fairness we never looked like scoring.

No long-term conclusions need to be drawn from this, of course. Apart from one, maybe: Rafael is not a left-back and he looked desperately out of depth there. Not everyone is Dennis Irwin, you know. And though Darron Gibson is a good little player he’s unlikely to ever reach the standard required at United; at his age, the then much-maligned Fletcher played 30 games a season.

However, Obertan certainly looks very promising; Welbeck and Macheda definitely have a chance of making it even though they visibly ran out of ideas and consequently of confidence in the second half. That’s about it. I am honestly not sure if I prefer to win the group or to finish second; although winning the group would ensure we play the second leg of the first knockout round at Old Trafford. That just about tips the balance towards first. So, apart from surrendering that proud home record, we can also regret passing up the chance of wrapping up first place.