Manchester United put in a very lackluster display against Valencia at the Mestalla, but Javier Hernandez’s goal five minutes from time spared their blushes in their 1-0 victory.
Chicharito’s goal was the first United goal in the UEFA Champions League this season, and it also secured only the second win for the Red Devils on Spanish soil in 19 matches.
With the victory, United moved into a two-way tie with Rangers atop of the Group C standings in the UEFA Champions League. Rangers pulled out a 1-0 win over Bursaspor at the Ibrox Stadium.
Sir Alex Ferguson was without three of United’s most prominent players – Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs – for the trip to Spain, so he was forced to rely on some of his fringe players to do the job – but it was his some of his youngest players that played their parts.
Ferguson also had his first opportunity to re-instill the Rio Ferdinand-Nemanja Vidic for the first time all season and it proved to be crucial as they held the La Liga leaders goalless.
The action started off quite slow, but the first chance four minutes in, and was Dimitar Berbatov who gathered the ball and danced in between Valencia defenders and narrowly missed the corner with his long-range effort.
The home side started to come out of their shell with three very good opportunities to open the scoring, but United rode their luck and saw off the dangers.
From their right channel, Pablo whipped a very tempting and teasing ball, but the cross may have been too good because none of the Valencia players made a run to get on the end of it.
Valencia’s first crack at goal came when Michael Carrick needlessly gave the ball away to Pablo Hernández, and from a very good central position, he fizzed his shot over the United crossbar.
A few moments later United were let off the hook. Edwin van der Sar misjudged a very tame cross from left-side, but thankfully an suspecting Roberto Soldado headed over an open net from close range.
United’s next chance came in the 19th minute when Nani whipped in a cross, but the fit-again Anderson could only get a weak flick on the ball and it went out for a goal kick.
Valencia started to get a foothold on the possession, because United, despite having three anchoring midfielders on the field, were awfully careless with theirs, which was putting the defense under constant, unnecessary pressure.
In the 33rd minute, Pablo left Patrice Evra for dead, but his well-placed low, out-swinging cross whistled through the United area untouched as none of Valencia attackers made an attempt to get to it.
Following a Valencia corner, United broke on a counter-attack with Berbatov picking out Ji-Sung Park on the left-wing, but the South Korean, like he was doing the entire half, took a heavy touch and lost possession.
With Rafael joining the counter-attack, United were left short at the back when Valencia went forward after gaining possession from Park’s mistake, and fortunately they were sloppy and were unable to get a shot off before fouling Carrick.
The first-half came to a close with neither team registering a shot on goal, which was a clear indicative of how the preceding forty-five minutes went.
Three minutes after interval, the best player of the first half cut inside on Vidic onto his weaker left foot, and he let fly, but his shot beat not only van der Sar, but the far post as well.
The first save of the match came in the 56th minute when Berbatov peeled away from a Valencia defender, but his shot could not beat César as the 39-year old goalkeeper deflected it out for a corner.
United had the next effort as well, but Carrick, who was suffering with an achilles problem prior to the match, let rip and it ended up in the crowd.
After failing to clear their lines from a Valencia corner, Soldado who was allowed to get some space and from close range, his right-footed volley smashed against the outside of van der Sar’s net.
United defenders were left scrambling after Juan Mata’s brilliant through ball found Pablo, but his cutback was deflected and then eventually cleared out harm’s way by Rio.
The game was beginning to see-saw back-and-forth with neither team wanting to make the all-important mistake.
Jérémy Mathieu made a lung-bursting run down the right-hand side and his attempted was expertly cleared by a back-tracking Ferdinand.
The United captain was then on the wrong end of challenge as David Navarro left a deliberate imprint of his studs on Vidic’s chest, and Los Che’s captain should have been sent off for it as well.
Manuel Fernandes, who scored for Everton against the Red Devils two years ago, tested van der Sar from distance, but the goalkeeper was able to parry the ball out for a corner kick.
Ferguson finally made a change in the _th minute, bringing young Javier Hernandez on for an ineffective Anderson.
United were again counting their blessings when a well-delivered from Aritz Aduriz was just too hard for Soldado and went out the end line.
Nani played a wonderful ball over the top to Chicharito, but the Mexican had no one to cross the ball into, so he tried testing César with a weak near-post effort.
The same players linked up again as Nani played in an in-swinging ball to the far post, but Hernandez, who was at full stretch, could only manage to clip it on the post.
Ferguson made a second substitution, and it wasn’t Michael Owen, but young Federico Macheda on for a tired Berbatov.
And the two young substitutions combined ever so well to give United the lead.
Nani played the ball into Macheda, and the Italian shimmied his shoulders, and then spotted the run of Chicharito and with his first touch he killed the momentum of the ball, and then perfectly placed the ball inside the post.
From a half-clearance, Pablo drilled a shot goalwards, but it was directly into the midriff of van der Sar.
The only yellow card of the match was issued in stoppage-time when Aduriz elbowed Evra.
Manchester United are singing the praises
Rio Ferdinand turned in a very good performance on his return to the United starting XI, and he did an admirable job keeping out a very dangerous Valencia side quiet.
E. van der Sar – 6; Rafael – 7 (J. O’Shea – X), R. Ferdinand – 7, N. Vidic – 7, P. Evra – 6; Nani – 6, Anderson – 5 (J. Hernandez – 7), D. Fletcher – 6, M. Carrick – 6, J. S. Park – 5; D. Berbatov – 6 (F.Macheda – 6)
J. Hernandez (85′)
Shots (On Target):
Fouls Conceded (Suffered): 10 (16)