This was a pretty solid performance from Manchester United as they were able to control the game in midfield. The first half was initially dominated by United but later on CSKA Moscow held their own and were dangerous especially on set pieces.
The second half picked up the pace of the game. CSKA Moscow had a goal called back correctly for offside after Fabio was stripped of the ball at the top of the box. United continued to hold possession and even created a nice interplay at the top of their opposition’s box that led to a Antonio Valencia shot that hit the goal post. Finally, in the 86th minute, Nani picked out Dimitar Berbatov who knocked the ball to the far post where Valencia was waiting. Valencia blasted a shot to the opposite post beating Igor Akinfeev and giving United the win. Here are some of my observations.
- The game could have been more comfortable with better service. The movement of Nani and Antonio Valencia was impressive and they often got the ball in dangerous positions but they rarely created chances from these positions. The goal was one of the few times that Nani actually looked up and placed a ball right onto Berbatov’s head. Valencia was also guilty because he does not seem confident to ever cross with his left foot. Despite his pace, he really reduces his effectiveness as it was clear all defenders would shade him to his left. However, other than the service the two wingers absolutely shredded the CSKA Moscow defense.
- CSKA Moscow have a real shot at getting out of the group CSKA Moscow were outclassed on the day but they did show some moments where they looked like they could trouble United. Krasic is a solid creative force in the midfield and Dzagoev is a solid striker. Their defense is also anchored by Ignashevich. The only weakness might be the lack of a physical presence up front as Dzagoev is a bit small. The United center backs were able to win most physical battles with the CSKA forwards. With Wolfsburg’s tie at home against Besiktas, if they handle Besiktas and Wolfsburg they stand a good chance of making it to the knockout round.
- Fabio looks promising. Well at least he looks good in attack. Defensively, he struggled with the physicality but his overlapping runs and attacking sense were sensational. His twin brother Rafael was a revelation last year but from what I have seen this year Fabio is probably the better twin as he seems to be a bit more composed on the ball. His one worry is unlike the right back which seems to be more wide open, he will have to compete with Patrice Evra for time at left back. Hopefully, United has a good run in the Carling Cup where he will see some more playing time.
- Is Paul Scholes the best passer in the history of the Premier League? I might be a bit biased in this opinion as Scholes is my favorite player. However, his range of passing is impressive. Nowadays, he has to control the game from deeper but it is his instincts near the box that set him apart from most Premier League players. Both Michael Carrick and Xabi Alonso are great passers but both orchestrate from deep. Scholes has the ability to pick out the killer pass from right outside the penalty box (My favorite was a ball he lifted over the AC Milan defense to set up a Rooney goal in 2007). It is forgotten that in the past he was a great scoring threat scoring 20 goals in 2002-2003 season. Those attacking instincts are what set him apart from most other players in the Premier League era.