Champs League offers reason for hope for Man United, none for City

Wednesday October 2nd, 2013

Though it came away with a draw, Manchester United showed improved focus against Shakhtar Donetsk.
Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

It was very close to being a very good night indeed for David Moyes, but even though Taison struck with 14 minutes remaining to prevent Moyes' Manchester United side from becoming the first English team ever to win in Donetsk, there was satisfaction and encouragement both in a valuable away point and in the level of performance. There were rather fewer positives to draw for the other Manchester cub, as City was outpassed and outplayed by Bayern Munich -- and, perhaps even more frustratingly, again ended up the victim of defensive and goalkeeping errors.

Shakhtar Donetsk manager Mircea Lucescu had suggested too much rotation had contributed to United's lack of fluency this season, but Moyes made nine changes from the side that had lost to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday. The result was a much improved display. There were still moments of raggedness, and the draw was at least in part down to good fortune and the shortcomings of a Shakhtar side in transition after the sales of Willian, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Fernandinho over the past year, but there was at least a sense of purpose and tenacity, a restoration of the edge that can turn an average performance into a decent one.

Wayne Rooney was absent, having taken a whack on his shin in training Tuesday, but intriguingly Moyes said he wouldn't have started anyway. His reasoning was that Rooney "has played a lot recently," suggesting a level of fatigue -- although given the significance of the game and with only Sunderland to come before the international break, it seemed an odd game in which to give him a rest. There must, at least in part, have been a tactical aspect to his thinking.

With Tom Cleverley alongside Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini, United employed a 4-3-3 rather than the 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1 hybrid it has been using. That gave it additional cover in the center of midfield, helping to negate the threat of Alex Teixera, while offering cover to protect against the threat of Shakhtar's notoriously attacking fullbacks. Using Danny Welbeck and Antonio Valencia wide at least in theory gave those fullbacks a defensive job to do -- not that that did much to stop them from flying forward.

For all the positives, it should also be acknowledged that United, as it had against Bayer Leverkusen, enjoyed a couple of moments of extreme good fortune. The goal, for instance, stemmed from a throw-in that was given to United when the ball had clearly been put out by Valencia. Fellaini did well against Tomas Hubschman to create space for the cross, but Welbeck was only given the chance to jab the ball home after a disastrous error from Yaroslav Rakitskiy. Four minutes earlier, Cleverley had been extremely fortunate not to concede a penalty with a clumsy swipe at Teixera. He caught the side of the Brazilian's calf, but a theatrical fall from Teixera served to persuade the Czech referee Pavel Kralovec that there had been no offense.

And there must be concerns as well about how often United, Patrice Evra in particular, conceded possession. The present Shakhtar is at nowhere near the level of the Shakhtar of a year ago -- evident in the frantic nature of much of its play and compounded by a string of poor deliveries from set pieces -- and yet it was still able to drive United back in the second half. Shakhtar created few clear chances, but it could hardly be argued that the club didn't deserve its goal, which came from Taison slamming his shot past David de Gea after Nemanja Vidic's attempt to clear Rakitskiy's cross had fallen to him.

If United ended the night feeling relatively positive, for City the only consolation was that this Bayern is a truly exceptional team. Alvaro Negredo's strike and a handful of late chances as Bayern felt the intensity of its early pressing gave a misleading impression, but Micah Richards was right when he commented that it had seemed as though Bayern had an extra man. Here was evidence of what Pep Guardiola is trying to do in Munich and evidence that it is working. Bayern completed more than twice as many passes as City. Terrifyingly, it might actually turn out to be better than last year's version.

LYTTLETON: Champions League Wrap: Bayern's brilliance, Mitroglu's finishing continue

Yet for all that, City again contributed to its own downfall. Joe Hart was at fault for both the first and third goals, getting a hand to the ball but being unable to keep it out. After another superlative performance from Fraser Forster for Celtic against Barcelona on Tuesday, Hart's place in the England side will come under even greater scrutiny. Gael Clichy was caught ball-watching for the second goal, gazing at a cross-field pass as Thomas Muller ran behind him. The third goal stemmed from Fernandinho, played into danger by Matija Nastasic, being caught in possession in the center circle. It's true that the relentlessness of Bayern's play can induce mistakes, but there were similar mistakes in City's defeats in the Premier League against Cardiff City and Aston Villa.

Losing to Bayern is of no great concern, even if the emphatic nature of the defeat probably is. "We played really badly," Manuel Pellegrini said. "It's not the team we see in the Premier League."

The first issue for the Manchester City manager is to stamp out that sloppiness. United, meanwhile, showed the first hints that it is rediscovering its focus.

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