Manchester United came through its opening Champions League group match in Istanbul last night, in what was a professional if unspectacular performance. Paul Scholes’ header was enough to take the points at the unbelievably noisy BJK İnönü Stadium, with Beşiktaş’ passionate fans creating one of the best atmospheres in recent memory. While Sir Alex Ferguson is rightly delighted with the result and a performance that shut out the home side, there was little to strike fear into United’s European rivals.
“I don’t think it was our best game, but a win’s a win,” man-of-the match Scholes told Sky Sports following the match.
“Turkey’s a difficult place to come and Beşiktaş were a decent team with a good crowd behind them.
“It’s always nice to score goals. I think it was the first time I’d got up the pitch. I didn’t have much chance to get up there. It was an important time to score a goal. It was a disappointment last year — we still did well to get to the final, but we want to go one better this year.”
While Scholes’ goal was ultimately pivotal to United’s win last night, it was the ginger midfielder’s metronomic passing that enabled his side to control the tempo of the game. Much as was the case for an hour against Spurs on Saturday. That the team travelled away from home and retained 60% of the ball in the first half is evidence of United’s tactical approach – keep it tight for an hour and then go for the win.
Indeed, Ferguson must have felt he’d broken the back of Beşiktaş by the time he removed Wayne Rooney on the hour, bringing on both Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov. The change gave United greater impetus, with wingers Nani and Antonio Valencia becoming increasingly penetrative on the touchlines.
“Being the first game you always want to win that but I was quite comfortable with the performance,” manager Sir Alex Ferguson said after the match.
“I thought they did quite well most of the time, kept good possession. We were the better team, the concentration had to be good because it was a fantastic atmosphere and a test of the concentration and a test of the nerves.”
However, many fans were disappointed with the tactics that attempted to nullify the opposition – and their incredible fans – rather than create chances. This is a common pattern in Europe and it has been a number of seasons since Ferguson regularly deployed two strikers away from home in the Champions League.
Once again Rooney was left isolated and largely frustrated by a system that was hard to break down but created only a smattering of opportunities in the first hour. But fans should get used to it – this will be the pattern of United’s play for the remainder of the competition and United’s principal strength is in defence.
The Beşiktaş fans were a sight to behold, with the ground bouncing, clapping, chanting and singing for the full 90 minutes. Recent tests have apparently shown that fans at BJK İnönü Stadium are the world’s noisiest, being recorded at more than 130 Db. That’s louder that a jumbo so the experts would have us believe. Something the Stretford End might want to think about come the weekend’s match against City.
“They create an atmosphere over here like no other country in Europe,” captain Gary Neville said.
“I think if Beşiktaş had got a goal it would have been a really hard night for us. So to keep a clean sheet was important – once we get in front we aim to make it very difficult for other sides.
“European football’s always really hard so we’re really happy with the win. It puts us in a good position.”
Bring on City.