Saturday, September 1, 2007
The French striker's substitute cameo transformed a sluggish United performance into a vital three points, as he headed home Nani's corner with 19 minutes remaining.
"Louis gave the players a good target to play to," Sir Alex told Setanta Sports after the game. "It improved their play enormously. I thought we deserved to win the game, but it was a long day."
The United Manager conceded that the presence of an out-and-out target man upfront was a welcome sight, having missed Saha for the majority of 2007 through injury.
"He showed his penetration, strength and speed," said Sir Alex. "They're great assets to have and, of course, we've missed them for the last eight months now.
"It's a delight to have him back, particularly as he's got us the win today. He's come through fine, we're delighted with that also. Having been out for such a long time, he knows that that kind of injury can come back again, but thankfully he's ok."
Sir Alex lamented his side's overly patient build-up play prior to Saha's introduction, but cited a lack of understanding between an unfamiliar front four players as the root cause.
"In the first half our passing was far too slow," he said. "I think we lacked what Saha gives us. Although the passing and possession was comfortable, we weren't making any chances through it. The front four had never played with each other before.
"Anderson played his first game, Tevez played through on his own and I think he's better when he's playing behind someone, Eagles is a young lad, Nani too. It's new for them so there was a lack of understanding, and naturally you would expect that."Read more...
'He has come through fine, having been out for such a long time you're always aware that type of injury can come back again.'
Ferguson added: 'In the first half I thought the passing was far too slow, although the possession was comfortable we were not making chances and it is difficult when teams come here and line up the way they do.'
Ferguson admitted his youthful attacking quartet had struggled to gel.
'We started with a front four who had never played together before, it was new for them so there was a lack of understanding, quite naturally,' he said
'In the second half we brightened the game up and deserved to win the game.' Read more...
Louis Saha marked his return from injury with a vital winning goal as United just about overcame a well-disciplined Sunderland side on another nail-biting afternoon at Old Trafford.
The French striker, on as a half-time substitute for debutant Anderson, headed home a Nani corner 19 minutes from time to finally end the resistance of the visitors, who were inspired by a fine performance from goalkeeper Craig Gordon.
Ex-Reds skipper Roy Keane returned to Old Trafford for the first time as an opposition manager, and included a host of former United players in his side - including the highly impressive Dwight Yorke in midfield.
Predictably, and completely correctly, Keane was afforded a rapturous reception on return, and the sentiment continued to flow as both teams quickly assembled into a guard of honour for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who announced his retirement this week.
The veteran striker received a standing ovation from all corners of the ground, including the generous travelling support, before departing after an impromptu embrace with Keane.
With two legends of the modern era suitably recognised, it was time for the focus to move quickly into the present, a shift which was facilitated in no small part by United's starting line up.
All four of the Reds' summer signings started for Sir Alex Ferguson's side, with Brazilian playmaker Anderson the latest debutant in attack.
It was another new boy, Nani, who had the game's first noteworthy effort. The winger's left-footed shot had none of the venom which brought his first United goal last week, against Tottenham, but it still had Craig Gordon scrambling unconvincingly across his line.
Dickson Etuhu then found room down the right wing, but could only wastefully lash a low shot wide
from the edge of the area.
Almost immediately, Patrice Evra fizzed in a fine left-wing cross, only for Danny Higginbotham - another ex-Red - to superbly snuff out the danger in his first real act on his Black Cats debut.
United were, as is often the case, dominant in possession in the face of the visitors' limited attacking ambition, but there was no apparent cutting edge in the early exchanges.
Anderson did well to toe-poke a loose ball to Eagles, but the young winger skewed his shot wide of Gordon's near post.
Clear-cut chances were at a premium throughout a fairly lifeless first half, although Anderson was harshly denied a free run on goal just before the half-hour, having been adjudged to have fouled Nyron Nosworthy.
Much of the Brazilian's debut was a frustrating affair, although he did show glimpses raw power to accompany his much-vaunted skill.
His first sniff of space resulted in a decent chance for Tevez. Following a slip by Dwight Yorke in the centre of midfield, Anderson advanced and released the Argentine on the left edge of the area.
Despite the acute angle, Tevez opted for a first-time shot which Gordon did well to parry out. Moments later, he was called into action again as he clutched at a long-range effort from Eagles.
That brief flurry of activity was an anomoly for much of the first 45 minutes, however. For all the enterprising build-up play on show across the United attack, there was no evident focal point to aim for.
As such, it was little surprise that United's closest brush with taking the lead came from a set-piece. Nani cleverly teed up Scholes, whose 25-yard effort was deflected just past Gordon's right-hand
post by Nosworthy.
That was the last action before the half-time break, at which point Sir Alex opted for a change of personnel and approach.
The absence of an out-and-out striker had been blamed for United's lean goalscoring spell in many corners, and the half-time introduction of Louis Saha would test the validity of those claims.
The Frenchman started the second half in place of Anderson, in doing so clocking up his first minutes of action since last May's Champions League semi-final exit in Milan.
Within 90 second he was heavily involved, as a harsh offside flag invalidated a right-foot shot which forced Gordon into action. Immediately sensing the new possibilities, the home fans were nudged into vocal action.
As Saha chased a long punt from Rio Ferdinand, Higginbotham's clearing header dropped to Tevez, who saw his low shot well held by Gordon.
The Scot, established as Britain's most expensive goalkeeper by his move from Hearts, showed exactly why Sunderland had lavished £9million on his signing with a stunning stop from Saha after 56 minutes.
Tevez, Scholes and Eagles combined to feed the Frenchman, whose superb control and snapshot was breathtakingly kept out by Gordon's right arm.
Nemanja Vidic volleyed narrowly over from the resulting corner as United continued to press without tangible reward.
Frustration almost turned to despair on the hour-mark, as Edwin van der Sar reacted well to punch away Rio Ferdinand's skewed header with Kenwyne Jones lurking.
Gordon again saved the visitors, parrying a Hargreaves shot and gathering the rebound before Scholes could convert, but the Scot was caught cold when
United finally took the lead after 71 minutes.
Nani fizzed in a superb left-wing corner which Saha converted, rising between Daryl Murphy and Nosworthy to head past the stranded Gordon.
Old Trafford erupted, part joy, part relief, as the Frenchman revelled in his glorious cameo in front of a baying Stretford End. Those who had awaited Saha's comeback as a return of the Reds' goalscoring threat had been validated.
A second was almost forthcoming 10 minutes from time, as the excellent Hargreaves fizzed a 25-yard effort just over Gordon's top corner.
Saha then claimed a penalty after going to ground under pressure from Higginbotham, while those claims were reprised for a handball by Collins four minutes from time.
Substitute Darren Fletcher, on for the impressive Nani, lifted a half-chance over the crossbar as United missed the chance to double their advantage. It mattered little, though.
The important thing was the garnering of another three points and, perhaps more crucially in the long-run, the return of Saha to provide a telling goal threat upfront.
Manchester United: Van der Sar; Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Hargreaves, Scholes, Eagles (Fletcher, 66); Anderson (Saha, 46), Tevez, Nani (O'Shea, 84).
Substitutes not used: Carrick, Kuszczak.
Sunderland: Gordon; McShane, Nosworthy, Higginbotham, Collins; Etuhu (Miller, 82), Leadbitter, Yorke, Wallace (Stokes, 82); Chopra, Jones (Murphy, 70).
Substitutes not used: Ward, Kay.
Source: Manchester United Official Website
Joined United: 01 Jul 2007
Transfer Fee: Undisclosed
Previous Clubs: Porto
United Debut: Sunderland
Honours Club Gremio
* Campeonato Brasileiro Série B: 2005
* Portuguese Championship: 2005-06, 2006-07
* Taça de Portugal: 2005-06
* SuperCup Cândido de Oliveira: 2006-07
* U-17 World Championships Golden Ball: 2005
* Copa América: 2007 Read more...
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be on hand to help United's strikers this season as he prepares to move onto the next phase of his career as a coach.
The 34-year-old Norwegian called time on his playing career on Tuesday after a long battle with injury. Solskjaer will complete his coaching badges over the coming year, but in the meantime will provide support for the Reds' attacking brigade.
"I've told Ole to get his coaching badges so he can eventually progress to being a coach or a manager," explained Sir Alex Ferguson.
"We're helping him do that by including him in the coaching staff this season. He'll assist from a technical point of view with particular focus on the strikers.
"We're delighted that we can help him because he's got the knowledge and the experience to become a good coach."
Sir Alex admits he was a little surprised by Solskjaer's decision to retire, but believes he will benefit from plying his coaching trade at Old Trafford.
"He's shown fantastic courage over the years with his injuries," said the manager. "It was a real bonus to get 11 goals from him last season, we didn't expect that. I think his later operations - the one in March and then in the summer - got to him in a big way in the sense of he knew it would be hard to come back from them.
"He tried to train about ten days ago and it didn't work out again and I think he knew it was the end. In a way it's happened at the right moment because it gives him a chance to be a coach with us. If he takes his badges and does what he needs to do then he's got a chance."