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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Victory costly for Sir Alex

Sir Alex Ferguson had mixed feelings at full-time in Denmark after seeing his team win but lose three players to injury.

Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney and young right-back Rafael were all substituted for medical rather than tactical reasons during the 3-0 victory over Aalborg BK. The first change was forced on the United boss after just 15 minutes when Scholes was stretchered off.

"There were a lot of plus points but we lost Paul Scholes who could be out for a few weeks," said Sir Alex. It was later confirmed that the midfielder suffered knee ligament damage and could miss up to two months of action.
"We had one or two other injuries," the boss added. "Young Rafael got injured and Rooney has an ankle problem. He felt a weakness in it when he went to receive a ball and we took him off straightaway.

"So there was maybe a cost to pay for the victory. Nonetheless we have four points now and it's where we want to be."

The three points in Aalborg were made safe by Dimitar Berbatov's first and second goals in a United shirt. Sir Alex was delighted to see the Bulgarian open his account so emphatically in only his fifth appearance.

"He scored two fantastic goals and that will help his confidence," said the manager.

"When you're transferred for that amount of money, you want your first goal quickly and he's got it. The second goal (volley from Ronaldo's cross) was a lovely goal."

Berbatov's second-half brace may have spared the blushes of his team-mates - Sir Alex's other complaint, aside from the injuries, was that "we missed a lot of chances."

Berbatov plays it cool

We're quickly learning that Dimitar Berbatov is a laid-back character, but the relaxed celebration that followed his first United goal against Aalborg and his description of his acrobatic second as “a tap-in” takes cool to a new level.

“I knew that my first goal would come sooner or later,” he said, ultra-relaxed after United’s 3-0 win in Denmark on Tuesday.

The Bulgarian spurned a chance to score his first Reds goal after just six minutes in the Group E clash, volleying wide from eight yards. But he remained unfazed and grew in stature as the game progressed.

Berbatov eventually found the net when he pounced on a defensive error to rifle home United’s second goal on 55 minutes. “I’m pleased to help my team win, that’s the most important thing,” he said. “But I’m happy [to score my first United goal].”

His second goal showed the elegance that led to United parting with £30million to sign him this summer. From Cristiano Ronaldo’s he hit the ball on the bounce with an exquisite scissor kick. “It’s a goal like any other,” he shrugged. “It was a tap-in and that was it, 3-0.”

Rio Ferdinand was pleased to see his new team-mate open his Reds account. "It was a good result," he told ITV Sport. "We knew it would be tough and that we'd have to pass the ball well and take our chances. It was good to see Berba get two goals to get him off the mark. Hopefully now we can go full steam ahead."

Aalborg BK Vs. Manchester United Match Report

United eased to three points, and top spot in Group E, with a 3-0 win over Aalborg in Denmark, thanks to a first-half strike from Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov’s second-half double.

Sir Alex Ferguson will have been delighted to see £30million man Berbatov finally get off the mark for the Reds with two well-struck volleys. The United boss will, however, hope that victory has not come at a cost. Injuries forced the withdrawal of Rooney and Paul Scholes, the latter suffering suspected knee ligament damage.

United’s performance showed signs of the team and some key players coming into form – Rooney, Berbatov and Ronaldo in particular – but, most importantly, provided a first win in Group E.

The Reds travelled without skipper Gary Neville, who picked up a knock against Bolton, and Owen Hargreaves due to a recurrence of the tendinitis problem in his knee. Regardless, the Reds boss promised to put out his strongest available side. He did so, with the only surprise being a Champions League debut for 18-year-old Brazilian right-back Rafael.

United put Aalborg under pressure right from the off and could have been 2-0 up inside the first eight minutes. Berbatov had a glorious chance to put the Reds in front on six minutes. Cristiano Ronaldo’s tackle on Aalborg goalkeeper Zaza sent the ball spinning up in the air. Berbatov met it on the volley but fired wide from eight yards. Two minutes later Rio Ferdinand saw his volley at the far post stopped by Zaza.

The match began at an intense tempo, with the Reds clearly seeking to break spirit of a determined Aalborg side, whose players and fans were fired up for this game as if it were their cup final.

Scholes’ injury on 15 minutes disrupted the flow. He didn’t appear to be in too much discomfort, but Sir Alex’s prognosis post-match didn’t sound positive. Scholes was replaced by Ryan Giggs, who joined John O’Shea in the centre of United’s midfield.

The Welshman made an almost immediate impact. On 22 minutes his simple pass led to United’s opener. Cutting through Aalborg’s defence, Giggs’ through-ball enabled Rooney to make his first-time shot look equally effortless, finding the net with aplomb.

Aalborg weren’t afraid to get forward and forced a few scares for the Reds, but when Rooney, who covered every blade of grass in his hour on the field, and Ronaldo had the ball the home side looked scared stiff. United’s attacking play, with Rooney at the reins, looked slick and fluid, but Sir Alex would have certainly liked to have seen a more commanding lead at the break.

In the second half the Reds manager was out on the touchline looking slightly concerned that United’s dominance in possession was not being converted into goals. But he didn’t have to wait long for the goal everyone at the club has been waiting for. The second goal came courtesy of a gift from the Aalborg defence. Berbatov pounced on a dreadful mistake from Augustinussen and punished the Danes ruthlessly by lashing the ball past Zaza in Aalborg’s goal. The Bulgarian’s muted celebration suggested it perhaps wasn’t the style in which this elegant front man imagined he would open his Reds account, but most importantly he is off the mark.

The goal knocked the life and fight out of Aalborg, whose energy and enthusiasm had been the sole components of any previous forays into United’s half.

Carlos Tevez’s introduction on the hour mark, replacing Rooney after the Englishman took a knock to his ankle, was exactly what Bruce Rioch’s men didn’t want. The Argentinian wasn’t settling for a 2-0 scoreline. He did have the ball in the net, but was penalised for unintentionally using his arm. Tevez perhaps should have been more selfish on 72 minutes when a neat move saw him break into the Aalborg penalty area. Instead of shooting, however, he squared the ball to Ronaldo, whose shot was blocked. Then five minutes later he sent a 25-yard shot whizzing just past the bar.

A third goal eventually arrived on 79 minutes. Ronaldo skipped past his marker to make it to the byline on the right of the Aalborg and his cross was met with an acrobatic volley from Berbatov to make it 3-0.

Team Line-ups

Aalborg BK: Zaza; Pedersen, Beauchamp (Caca 38), Olfers, Bogelund; Risgard, Johansson, Augustinussen, Enevoldsen; Curth, Saganowski.
Subs not used: Stenild, Due, Braemer, Sorensen, Kristensen, Schwartz.
Booked: Johansson, Zaza

Manchester United: Van der Sar; Rafael (Brown 66), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Ronaldo, Scholes (Giggs 16), O'Shea, Nani; Rooney (Tevez 59), Berbatov.
Subs not used: Amos, Anderson, Park, Evans.

Attendance: 10,346

Aalborg BK Vs. Manchester United Highlights Video Clip

Aalborg BK [0 - 3] Manchester United
22' [0 - 1] W. Rooney
55' [0 - 2] D. Berbatov
79' [0 - 3] D. Berbatov


Rene calls for fast start

Rene Meulensteen believes the gameplan for United's Champions League game against Aalborg should be to score early and "kill their belief".

The Reds' first-team coach faced Aalborg twice during his time as coach of Brondby and revealed they are a hard-working, disciplined side who will gain more confidence the longer they keep United's attack at bay.

"Aalborg typify Danish football as a whole – well organised," Meulensteen told "They will work their socks off against us because if they don’t, we will have too much quality for them.

"So we need to make sure we have enough tools available to break them down. We need to win the game in the first half by starting bright and sharp, and if we score an early goal we’ll kill some of their belief. If they have something to hold onto like they did at Celtic, they'll get extra energy from nowhere."

Brondby failed to beat Aalborg in either of their two league meetings under Meulensteen's reign two years ago, so the Dutchman knows United must not take their opponents lightly.

"Erik Hamrén was Aalborg's coach for several years and did a good job. They were a decent side when we faced them Рwe drew 1-1 at their place but lost 2-1 at home," Meulensteen added.

"Bruce Rioch is now in charge and he's an experienced coach who knows Danish football, having worked with Odense. He has several good players here, although one of the best, Michael Jakobsen, isn’t playing tonight because he is suspended.

"They also have an attacking midfielder, Siyabonga Nomvethe, who has been injured recently but was quite skilful and tricky when he played against us at Brondby.

"Goalkeeper Karim Zaza is a bit of an erratic player who can make fantastic saves – one from a Nakamura free-kick two weeks ago – but he’s not the biggest of players and isn’t always 100% certain on crosses.

"If I look at the way we’ve trained and played over the last couple of weeks, I can sense that there are goals around the corner. But we can’t take anything for granted – we need to earn the right by playing good, attacking football, and when the chances come, hopefully the goals will too."

O'Shea eyes 'special' feat

John O'Shea is excited by the possibility of United becoming the first team to retain the Champions League trophy and insists the Reds are ready for the tests ahead.

United face Aalborg in Denmark tonight looking for a first win of this season's European campaign following the goalless draw at home to Villarreal two weeks ago.

When asked at Monday's pre-match press conference what it would mean to the club to repeat the success of Moscow, O'Shea said: "It’d be very special. It’s a major challenge but facing up to that and responding is what this club is all about.

"As the manager always says, if we’re still in the competition after the group stages, that’s when it really kicks in and when we feel we’re in with a great chance. If you’re playing well and get luck at the right time, it’s yours for the taking and we have to be confident with the squad we have."

While some have tagged Aalborg as minnows and expect United to win comfortably, O'Shea is wary of complacency, especially after the Danes' opening-game draw at Celtic.

"The result they got against Celtic was a real eye-opener for us," the Irishman added. "We saw how competitive and compact they were so we’re going to have to use our experience in keeping the ball away from home, show some composure and try to quieten down the crowd, because it’ll be a great atmosphere."

Berba backed to shine

Sir Alex Ferguson has dismissed criticism of Dimitar Berbatov and is confident United fans will soon see the best of their new striker.

The Bulgarian has yet to score for the Reds since his deadline-day move from Tottenham but has been increasingly influential, most recently on his home debut against Bolton on Saturday.

Ferguson said: "Dimitar only played one pre-season game for Tottenham, followed by two tremendously difficult away games for us, and in those sorts of matches you are asking a lot for someone who’s just arrived at the club to perform.

"When we understand how good he is in terms of his movement and ability to lead the line, then we’ll get the best use out of him.

"You saw that in the second half against Bolton, when we used him more and some of his passes, control and balance were absolutely fantastic."

Berbatov is set to take his place in the starting line-up for tonight's Champions League game in Aalborg, although which forward line Ferguson will select is anyone's guess.

The Reds boss insists his side are under no pressure to play with style because United are the reigning European champions.

"We’ll play how we normally play, which is hopefully in an entertaining and exciting way," he said. "We can’t play like that every game but we try to, and that’s the most important thing.

"We expect a hard game against Aalborg because, irrespective of their league form, playing United is a great motivation for them. But I hope we don’t have any hiccups."

Blame Berba

I don’t blame Juande Ramos for Tottenham’s dismal start to the season – and you might be surprised to learn I don’t blame Daniel Levy, either. If you want to know why the club is suffering so badly then look no further than the sales of Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov. Bulgarian strike ace Berbatov kept telling us he had a ‘dream’. Well, good for you Dimi, you had a dream with a few extra noughts added to your bank balance. But don’t you think Spurs had a dream too? Don’t you think that when they bought you and helped you blossom into one of the best strikers in the world, you had a duty to reward them by helping them fulfil their dream? You got your way but your poisonous presence at the start of this season – the pouting, the brooding and the reluctance to play – has cost the club that believed in you.
Terry Venables, The Sun