x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Manchester United's woes continue after Blackburn draw

In the past 12 days, United have lost to Chelsea, exited from the Champions League and damaged their hopes of the Premier League title.

Manchester United's Federico Macheda, right, goes to ground after a challenge from Ryan Nelsen, the Blackburn Rovers defender, during their goalless draw at Ewood Park yesterday.
Manchester United's Federico Macheda, right, goes to ground after a challenge from Ryan Nelsen, the Blackburn Rovers defender, during their goalless draw at Ewood Park yesterday.

If, as appears increasingly likely, Manchester United's season ends in anti-climax, they will have cause to regret a passage of 12, damaging days that included elimination from the Champions League, defeat to Chelsea and the loss of their lead in the Premier League. Procuring a point at Ewood Park enabled them to halve the gap to Chelsea while handing Carlo Ancelotti's team, who have a game in hand, a greater chance of taking the title.

Like beating Bayern Munich on the night, but exiting Europe on away goals, taking one step forward still resulted in two steps backward. While that was a thrilling game, however, this was altogether underwhelming. Barring one save from Paul Robinson, to thwart Antonio Valencia, United rarely looked like winning. On this occasion, despite Sir Alex Ferguson's complaints about the playing surface and minor injuries, there was no plausible hard luck story.

"It was a blow, no question about that, it makes it really difficult for us to win the league," said the United manager. "I think the title has slipped away from us today. We had to win them all going into today's game. We didn't do it. That is the disappointment." It completed a week difficult week for Ferguson. The premature return of Wayne Rooney against Bayern resulted in his absence yesterday.

Having cast aside his ageing stalwarts en masse in midweek, they returned together. The recalls of Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes - with a combined age of 106 - was another bold move and, like trusting the teenager Rafael da Silva against Bayern, it did not quite pay off. Nor, indeed, did the wholesale rotation policy. Wayne Rooney's omission was enforced but, shorn of the talisman, Ferguson also opted to rest Darren Fletcher and Patrice Evra, who should complete the top three in the voting for the club's Player of the Year award, though the latter appeared for a cameo.

Before then, the Scot's determination and the Frenchman's speed were missed. It is rare they create so little. The one exception occurred two minutes before the interval. Then Dimitar Berbatov guided a ball into the path of Valencia, sending the Ecuadorean speeding clear on goal. His shot, however, was placed too close to Robinson, who blocked it with his left leg. "That was an outstanding chance," added Ferguson. "He should have scored; it was a golden chance but the ball just jumped up on Valencia a little bit." Sam Allardyce added: "It was a critical save."

Valencia had also drawn a save from Robinson with a low drive. With 10 minutes remaining, Neville headed Scholes's pass into the path of Berbatov. The Bulgarian showed agility to volley, but directed his shot straight at Robinson. Rooney's ankle problem conferred an importance upon Berbatov and, once again, the club record signing could not quite deliver when it mattered most. In that respect, it was an afternoon to epitomise his United career.

Blackburn were, as Allardyce admitted, on the defensive. Their attacks were rare: Edwin van der Sar saved an early header from Christopher Samba; Neville blocked well when Steven Nzonzi threatened to score a late winner and, at the other end, the United captain bobbled a shot past the far post."I've dented Manchester United's chances, of course I have," added Allardyce. Ferguson, meanwhile, was left lamenting the increased workload for his physio.

"Things conspired a little bit against us in terms of injuries," he said, with Rio Ferdinand a doubt for Saturday's Manchester derby with a groin problem. For Ferguson, four wins are required now. "We have a lifeline if Chelsea blow it," he added. But only if they do. sports@thenational.ae