x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Manchester United learning their lessons in Champions League

United have been punished for their starts and they were punished in Romania, until Robin van Persie saved the day.

Robin van Persie, centre, celebrates his second goal with Wayne Rooney.
Robin van Persie, centre, celebrates his second goal with Wayne Rooney.

CLUJ, Romania // The last time Manchester United played an away game in Europe, they were outclassed by an Athletic Bilbao side who knocked them out of a lesser competition the English side had not even expected to be competing in.

United, so often high achievers in the Champions League, wanted to forget about last season's Europa League misery.

The sides fielded by Sir Alex Ferguson in the Champions League were too inexperienced and took superior opponents for granted until it was too late.

It was a lesson United were keen to learn from this season. Ferguson promised to right the wrong of an odd European season.

The 500 travelling United fans in Romania last night hoped their team would right a wrong of this season too, that of starting poorly in matches.

Ferguson made several changes from the side who lost at home to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, with David de Gea, Tom Cleverley, Darren Fletcher, Javier Hernandez, Anderson and Wayne Rooney all starting.

Yet United still started as slowly in Cluj as they did in Bilbao, Southampton and twice in Liverpool this season. United have been punished for their starts and they were punished in Romania, as Cluj started brightly and deserved their 14th-minute lead through Pantelis Kapetanos.

A cross-field ball from the Brazilian Rafael Bastos, who scored both Cluj goals in their opening Group H victory at Braga, found Modou Sougou.

The winger, wearing number 99, found Patrice Evra out of position and hit a low cross towards the Senegalese striker who swept the ball home past De Gea.

United's defence continued to look shaky in a 24,000-capacity stadium which was far from full, but there was more cohesion up front. Rooney urged a response as the ball was placed on the centre circle and, as has often happened this season, United found one - albeit an unconventional one as a Rooney free kick looped off one of Robin van Persie's shoulders and into the goal in the 28th minute.

United did not have much width, but they dominated in midfield, something that has not been a given in games this season.

Rooney and Van Persie linked well and it was the Dutchman who added the second in the 49th minute, controlling a ball over the top and guiding it with the outside of his left boot beyond Mario Felgueiras with one touch.

Cluj were not out of the game and reacted well, their captain Cadu seeing a powerful 55th-minute header saved by De Gea.

Van Persie came close to making it a hat-trick when he slid in and tried to meet a low Rooney centre, but he could not quite make it.

Some have questioned whether Rooney and Van Persie can link up effectively, but on last night's evidence that will not be a worry.

Evra shouted for a 72nd-minute penalty after Gabriel Muresan, dropped his shoulder into the Frenchman's back, but the referee disagreed as United held on for a much-needed boost away from home in Europe.

With six points from six, United will be confident of avoiding a repeat of last season's continental mishap.


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