There were constant reminders before the match that Manchester United should take this contest semi-seriously, if not pay full attention to it.
Recent successes in the Champions League and the Premiership meant that United could afford to look beyond Copenhagen to Sunday and Liverpool, and the preparations for the match had the ‘other’ Reds firmly in mind as Ferdinand, injured, was taken out as a precaution and Neville and Giggs, fit, were held back on the bench in order to keep them fresh.
And so started a young, somewhat inexperienced Manchester United side. 3 current captains were sitting out, with Rooney taking the armband as a testament to Ferguson’s faith in the youngster to inspire his teammates.
As for the match itself, there was little to suggest that my initial prediction of 6-0 was far off the mark. Saha missed a host of chances, including a couple of juicy one-on-ones, and if he had even converted half of the chances fallen to him United would have gone into half-time at 4-0. As it was, we went in 1-0 ahead, the game in the bag and player safety on the mind of the manager.
The second goal – a fortuitious ball Ronaldo corner that went in the net via O’Shea’s leg – meant that United could now afford to relax and try to score a couple of cute goals. With Saha and Carrick substituted to protect them for the Liverpool game, United came close several times with Solskjaer and Rooney linking up, although it was Alan Smith who missed the best chance of the second half.
The more I see Alan Smith this season, the more I’m convinced that he is due a big, big performance very soon.
The third sub was Scholes taken off for Kieran Richardson, who fit in well in the attacking midfielder role and even managed a goal – another one of his outside-the-box efforts, and credit to him for always trying to score.
Keeping up with the captaincy debate, this is the current hierarchy within Manchester United:
Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney
Both Neville and Giggs will retire in the next couple of years – despite the fact that these two are two of United’s most reliable players, I’m actually looking forward to seeing Rio and Rooney as regular captains.
On to the match itself – Carrick used this game to good effect, mixing up his sit-back-and-pass game with a couple of tackles and a rasping shot that he should have gotten a goal from. Carrick rarely tackles but when he does, he measures them perfectly (as good as, if not better than, Hargreaves) and goes in pretty hard. He’s got to do more of that but more importantly, he has to close down opposition midfielders from advancing. Alonso and Gerrard will relish the space Carrick currently provides.
Fantastic goalkeeping by Christiansen – he kept the score in single digits and stood up to a rampaging United side that looked to score 10 goals even when in second gear.
Darren Fletcher is good but he fails to link up properly with Rooney and Ronaldo. He needs more time on the ball, and I think that if Carrick starts going forward more often he’ll be a natural at the quick-passing game that United’s front four play.
FC Copenhagen Verdict
A strong, direct, physical side that lacked the technical skills to hold back United. At home you can expect them to be more bullish, but here they were simply overwhelmed but United’s range of passing. They did stretch United’s defence at times and they could well sneak in a goal against us in the return leg.