United arrived in Turkey knowing that a win against Turkish champions Bursaspor would all but guarantee their passage into the knockout phase of the Champions League. However, with a host of players unable to make the trip due to a virus, and the absence of Rio Ferdinand, United expected a tough task ahead of them. Nonetheless, a strong United side took to the field, including a rare start for the talented Gabriel Obertan, for whom opportunities at Old Trafford have been fairly limited. As has been the case with many United games this season, the first half was a somewhat cagey affair, with both teams giving the ball away frequently, and failing to create any momentum. Bursaspor found themselves presented with some good chances, including a glorious one on one, which was well saved by Van Der Sar. Fletcher, Scholes and Carrick where often frustrated by the lack of movement up front, with an out of form Berbatov struggling to get into the game. Berbatov’s recent form has been a cause for concern for United, after scoring 6 goals in 7 games at the beginning of the season, he has now failed to score in the last 7. United’s offensive misery was compounded on half an hour, when Nani was forced off through injury, Nani has become integral to United this season therefore any injury lay off could be costly to our push for major honours.
The first half drew to a close with United feeling frustrated at being unable to break the deadlock and fully settle into the game. However, true to recent form, the second half brought the game to life as a resurgent United came out and put Bursaspor to the sword. United struck immediately after half time, after some brilliant build up play, and a delightful cushioned pass by Michael Carrick, Fletcher volleyed United into the lead. With the deadlock broken United never looked back, and the goal appeared to give us a surge in confidence as Carrick and Scholes began to find their rhythm and make a tireless Bursaspor side chase the ball all over the park. Scholes in particular was back to his majestic best, with his pinpoint passing, and almost metronome like ability to keep the ball moving keeping Bursaspor on the back foot. His night was almost capped with a goal, bar the vigilance of the referee who deemed Scholes to have handled the ball. United were unperturbed however, and the introduction of Bebe on the hour mark heralded United’s best spell in the game. United’s dominance was compounded 20 minutes before time, when Obertan capped a solid display with a brilliantly taken goal from the edge of the area leaving the keeper totally helpless. Bebe sealed a great night for United after being found by a superb reverse pass by Scholes, and finishing well albeit via a deflection from the defender. A lot of people (including me) have questioned the signing of Bebe, a totally unheard of talent for such a large transfer fee. However, so far he has done nothing but enhance his reputation, the lad has an abundance of pace with the strength to match, and most importantly he appears to have the right attitude every time he steps onto the pitch for United. With those attributes in place, Bebe is at the perfect club, and under the perfect manager to have his talent’s nurtured and become the best player he can be meaning potentially exciting times ahead for United fans.
Although the headlines will be stolen by Obertan and Bebe, for me the performance of the night went to Chris Smalling at the other end of the field. Smalling has shown such great composure and confidence in the United team, a very admirable feat considering the pressure of a £10 million fee on your head, and alongside Vidic last night United looked as solid as we have all season. The experience of playing away in Europe in a relatively hostile atmosphere will no doubt do wonders for his game, and continue his excellent progress at the club.
With the points in the bag, and Valencia beating Rangers, United now only need a point at Ibrox to guarantee their passage into the next round. However, with other groups shaping up as they are, as always winning the group is imperative for United, so I expect Fergie to go for the win at Ibrox and win the group outright before having to face a potential banana skin against Valencia at home.
by Jan Metcalf