The three-time European champions have just held this year's favourites to a draw at Old Trafford and there is time to have a look at the what we picked up during the 90 minutes.
Büttner not that bad
Prior to the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final, I noticed Reds on Twitter expecting profit on money handed to the bookmakers for Alexander Büttner topping off an horrific performance with being dismissed. The general consensus around told that the Dutchman would be left dizzy and confused after facing the Arjen Robben merry-go-round. In fact, none of this occurred and United's tattooed left-back got away without any major scratches after delivering arguably his best performance ever in a United shirt. Yes, he allowed Robben to cut inside and pull the trigger more than we would like, but additionally he only completed one of his five attempted take-ons and none of his four crosses.
When Evra was branded with a booking against Olympiacos, people were like 'oh no, not Büttner', but it's easy to forget that equalling the Frenchman's defensive capacity isn't really that hard. How many times has he missed picking up a player running in behind his back, getting past him to put in a cross way too easily or been caught jogging carelessly backwards not bothering to stop the opposition's counter-attack? Without stating Büttner is United's long-term solution on the left-hand side of defence, he's a completely all right back-up not far off what we see there on a weekly basis. And unlike some others at the club, I noticed his mentality pre-match, which is exactly where it should be. He expressed confidence and was "looking forward to stop Arjen Robben", which he basically did. No "trying to make it hard for him" nonsense.
Valencia the vulnerability
What does Antonio Valencia offer to United's game? All right, he's a hard worker, but he's basically offering nothing in attack, does frequently fail to mark opposing players in defence and is consistently finding himself in an unreliable state of mind all over the pitch. When the uncharismatic Ecuadorian was moved to right-back against Tottenham, Fulham and Everton, it cost us every single time, and on top of that he was the one failing to mark Kolarov as he crossed in an assist to Sergio Agüero at the Etihad in September. The even worse example was against Everton, when he completely unnecessarily handed the Toffees a free-kick outside the box, before failing to mark the match-winning Bryan Oviedo in the subsequent situation.
Against Bayern Munich, he once again lost his mind in the 74th minute, and could effectively have sent United out of the Champions League before the players had even boarded the plane to Germany. He knew he was booked, but still managed to throw himself into a challenge on Jerome Boateng which would've earned him his second booking six days a week. Fortunately for him, this was the seventh, but nonetheless there shouldn't be somewhere in the side for this sort of lack of concentration. Particularly when the relevant players offers next to nothing in most aspects of the game.
A Moroccan top-six player
"Fellaini is a big lad, he could break down Bayern Munich with his physical presence and dominate aerially as well", must've been next to David Moyes' reasons for playing his former Everton citizen in this game. That was reasonable enough. Until one saw the outcome. All right, he recovered possession nine times, joint-most with Bastian Schweinsteiger on the pitch, but he seemed to be caught up with his lack of pace most of the time nonetheless. Additionally both of his tackles turned out unsuccessful and aerially he won one of his seven headed duels.
When looking at Fellaini's recent games, we have the showdowns against Liverpool, Manchester City, Crystal Palace, West Ham and Bayern Munich. His performances against Palace and the Hammers were a significant improvement from what he's proved in the red shirt earlier this season, and he came super close to scoring at Upton Park as well. However, he's been out of his depth at times when facing top sides with a high-tempo passing game like Liverpool, City and Bayern. In other words, the case seems to be that he does the business against many sides in the Premier League, but he's no world beater in the defensive midfielder role. He could probably done better if played behind the striker, like at Everton, but that spot is occupied by far more technically gifted players like Rooney, and lower down the pecking order, Van Persie, Mata, Kagawa and Januzaj. In other words, Fellaini looks like a player able to make it into a top-six or seven team, but nothing further up the table. And where do you finish if half your side includes top-six players like Fellaini, Cleverley, Valencia and Ashley Young, under the reign of a top-six manager? Exactly, somewhere around sixth.
Welbeck > Van Persie?
I was in doubt of whether to include this point, as there is no doubt that the Holland international is better than the one capped for England. However, I think it's legit to point out that Welbeck offers something that Van Persie doesn't: Pace. If coming one-on-one against Manuel Neuer, United's number 20 would've been more likely to get away with a counting result, but on the other hand he would've been less likely to even find himself in that sort of situation. It's obviously hard to leave out the Dutchman from the side if fit, considering his astonishing season last term and the fact that he's been even more frequent on the scoresheet this season if you take minutes per goal into account, but I think Dat Guy should be something to consider of RVP's behalf in some certain kind of games, where we have a great chance of counter-attacking.
On a side note, pacy players able to counter-attacks seem to be the fashion these days, maybe particularly in the Premier League. All of the top three sides have lighting pace in their forward lines, like Suárez, Sturridge, Agüero, Navas, Hazard and Willian. Both Van Persie and Rooney are technically superb, but neither have lots of pace in their locker - unlike Welbeck.
Moscow generation bowing out
Ryan Giggs played his 141st game in the world's hardest football club competition in the Tuesday night encounter, which is only one short of record holder Raúl. However, this might have been the Welshman's final appearance in the Champions League, as United are likely to get knocked out in Munich and subsequently not participate in the next season's edition, regardless of whether the club legend remains on board for even one more season. As a fun fact, one can add that Giggs, including this game, has played equally many games for United home and away (459 each), added to his 44 appearances at neutral ground.
Further back on the pitch, Nemanja Vidic bagged this third and probably final Champions League goal for Manchester United this evening. All three of them have come at Old Trafford, in Decenber 2006 against Benfica and in March 2009 against Internazionale. Notice that United reached the semi-finals (or beyond) in both of the campaigns where Vidic scored. Omen?
Both of the two great men, added to the formerly rock solid defender Rio Ferdinand (who to be fair put in a shift against the Germans) are likely to end their United careers at the end of the season. Vidic has already booked his flight to Milano, Giggs seems eager to get fully into a coaching role and I don't expect David Moyes' greatest Christmas present this year to be signed by Rio Ferdinand. In other words: After the summer, there seems to be only two of the eleven starters from that wonderful rainy night in Moscow 2008 left in the side beyond the summer: Carrick and Rooney. An era has undoubtedly come to an end, as entire exquisite side has bowed out within six years, and there is time to start over new with different personnel.Suggest a correction