Young players will be wiser from the experience of defeat at home to Besiktas in the Champions League.
Learning curve for United boys
MANCHESTER // It was a moment to savour and a reminder of what Manchester United may need if they are to reclaim Europe's top prize. Just more than an hour had gone when Gabriel Obertan picked up the ball just inside the Besiktas half and swept past defenders with pace and power. His left-foot shot from 20 yards was accurate, but denied a goal by the outstretched hand of Rustu Recber.
Obertan's effort was the sort United fans grew accustomed to during the days of Cristiano Ronaldo and miss when they rest their main men. They also lack the potency and unpredictability of the past. That is something that could rarely be said when Ronaldo or Carlos Tevez were on show and inevitably helped them avoid such results as Wednesday's 1-0 Champions League home loss to Beskitas. As Gary Neville admitted afterwards, his side were sloppy in the final third. Yet in Obertan, there is hope, and Sir Alex Ferguson may well have a raw Ronaldo. He showed glimpses of the same bravado as Ronaldo when he was introduced to the Premier League back in 2003 as precocious 18-year-old.
But there were also the same characteristics that would infuriate about the Portuguese in his early days. Too casual with his passing and wasting promising opportunities with his crossing and shooting. Rustu made another good block in the first half that should have produced a goal for the Frenchman. These faults in Ronaldo were soon ironed out, helping to make him the world's most expensive and best player. Obertan, 20, should take heed.
So too Federico Macheda, who is no longer a secret weapon after his match-winning efforts last season. The impressive Rustu also kept the teenager off the scoresheet, tipping over his thumping header, but the Italian and his strike partner Danny Welbeck still have work to do if they are to gain more regular starts. But Ferguson has faith. He said: "The club's history is based on producing young players who can excite and these players can all excite. They are potentially top players."
These young players will be wiser for this experience. Rafael definitely will be. He won't forget Nemanja Vidic's furious explosion at his part in the Besiktas 20th-minute winner from Rodrigo Tello. Having sped forward in support of an attack, Rafael lazily sauntered back as Besiktas broke. Tello had space and time and his 25-yard strike clipped the Brazilian full-back to elude Ben Foster. Vidic said: "It's important for young players to get chances. They're still young, but they're growing up a lot and we will see a lot more from them."
There were boos at the end of United's defeat - their first at home since February 2005, when AC Milan were victorious. There was frustration that they did not get a penalty when Patrice Evra was blatantly blocked off by Ibrahim Kas and they succumbed to a side who had failed to win a previous game in Group B and were beaten 8-0 by Liverpool on their last visit to England a year ago. Rustu also conceded six at Old Trafford in 2004 with Fenerbahce, and teammate Tello said: "It was revenge for him."
Besiktas could still qualify if results are favourable in the final round of games, while United need a point at Wolfsburg to give them top spot. Neville added: "I think it will be difficult whoever we get drawn against in the next round, but for our pride and the way we like to do things, we want to finish top." But he knows United have to sharpen up if they are to be in that position. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org