Manchester United 1 Valencia 1: Anderson the saviour as Fergie's men top group

08 December 2010 07:38

A boy from the beaches of Brazil eased Manchester United into the knockout phase of the Champions League on a freezing English night at Old Trafford.

Pablo Hernandez's first-half strike stopped United becoming the first side in the history of this competition to go through the group stage without conceding a goal.

Quick on the draw: Anderson sidefoots home the equaliser for Manchester United

Far more importantly, however,Anderson's first for United in Europe made sure that Sir AlexFerguson's side - and not Valencia - finish top of Group C and willtherefore avoid Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich when the drawfor the last 16 is made in Nyon a week on Friday.

Ferguson has been here many timesbefore and knows it will be far from easy; United could yet be pairedwith either of the Milan clubs. But he also knows they now stand a muchbetter chance when the serious business gets under way in February.

'We can make progress,' he said.'Now we will just have to take whoever we get. We made a lot of chancesand played a lot of good football. But then we settled on what we'dgot, tried to see out the game and that can be dangerous.'Theirgoalkeeper had a golden day. He was marvellous but should have scored afew more goals.'

Ferguson is used to seeing Unitedmake it hard for themselves and last night was certainly no exception.They had enough opportunities to bury Valencia but a combination ofpoor finishing, in particular from Dimitar Berbatov, and some quiteexceptional goalkeeping by Vicente Guaita kept their fans on the edgeof their seats right to the last.

Pain from Spain: Valencia's Pablo Hernandez scores the opening goal

One concern for Ferguson is thefitness of Rio Ferdinand who was forced off with a tight hamstringearly in the second half and had to be replaced by Chris Smalling.

The England defender will beassessed this morning but Ferguson is confident Ferdinand will beavailable for the forthcoming Barclays Premier League clashes withArsenal and Chelsea.

MATCH FACTS MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2): Amos 6; Rafael 6, Ferdinand 6 (Smalling 50min, 6), Vidic 6, Fabio 5; Nani 7 (Giggs 81), Carrick 5, Anderson 7 (Fletcher 89), Park 6; Berbatov 6, Rooney 7. Subs not used: Kuszczak, Hernandez, Obertan, Macheda. Booked: Anderson.

VALENCIA (4-4-1-1): Guaita 8; Miguel 5, R Costa 6, Dealbert 6, Mathieu 5; Hernandez 7 (Feghouli 81), Banega 6, Albelda 6, Alba 6 (Mata 68, 6); Dominguez 7 (Isco 54, 6); Aduriz 6. Subs not used: Cesar, Maduro, Soldado, F Costa. Booked: Albelda, Miguel.

Man of the match: Vicente Guaita.

Referee: Pedro Proenca (Portugal) 6.

There were some big plusses as well,not least the continuing improvement of Wayne Rooney, who lookedsharper than at any point since last season. Twice he combined withAnderson in the early stages but Guaita produced two fine saves andthen blocked Ji-Sung Park's volley from Rooney's cross at point-blankrange. When the England striker did finally beat him with a wonderfulcurling attempt from 25 yards, it clipped the bar and fell for Naniwhose follow-up shot crept just wide of the far post.

By then United were behind as aweakened Valencia side went ahead in the 32nd minute. Michael Carrickhas to take the blame for dithering near halfway and allowing AlejandroDominguez to intercept his weak pass.

As Fabio tried to get back and fillthe void at left-back, the Argentine played the ball into the path ofHernandez and young goalkeeper Ben Amos, on his Champions League debut,could not keep out the shot. That the Spaniards held on to their leadfor so long was due in no small measure to the profligacy of Berbatov,who missed a string of chances at the start of the second half and hadanother effort correctly ruled out for offside when he finally put theball past Guaita.

The Bulgarian plundered five goalson his last Old Trafford appearance against Blackburn, but it is nowjust five minutes short of 16 hours since he hit his last ChampionsLeague against Celtic in October 2008.

Anderson will know how that feels,having scored only once in all competitions for United before lastnight. But when Park's fierce effort from the edge of the box broughtanother fantastic one-handed save from Guaita in the 62nd minute, theBrazilian was waiting to tuck home the loose ball.

It was United's 150th goal in UEFAcompetitions on the night Ferguson changed his team for the 150th gamein a row. There was still time for another landmark moment as RyanGiggs came on as a late substitute for Nani to make his 850thappearance for the club.

Top boys: The Brazilian celebrates his goal with Wayne Rooney

'Anderson should get more,' saidFerguson. 'He's a terrific talent, great pace and power. We're pleasedhe got the goal and it may help him.

'Berba could have scored fivetonight, he was unlucky. But Wayne Rooney did very well again - hisdistribution, the way he led the line, his penetration. He was outstanding, and he's getting there quickly.'

Rooney was happy with his progressdespite still not having scored in open play since March. 'I feel goodfitness-wise,' he said. 'Just in and around the box I've got to get mysharpness back.'

He will get better and so willUnited. They always do in the second half of the season. For now, theycan be satisfied with a point and first place in their group. The truevalue of that will become apparent in nine days' time.

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Source: Daily_Mail