Belfast Telegraph

Top marks for Anderson as Manchester United top Champions League group

Man Utd 1 Valencia 1: Anderson scored his first Manchester United goal at Old Trafford last night and it could prove to be a priceless strike.

The Brazilian’s second-half goal gave Sir Alex Ferguson’s side a 1-1 draw against Valencia last night and despite both teams already being sure of a place in the last 16 of the Champions League, the share of the spoils ensured that United qualify as group winners.

And that means a seeded place in next Friday’s draw for the knockout stages, thus avoiding the other group winners.

Ferguson had spelt out the requirement yesterday. Already through to the last 16 was not good enough.

Only a group win would satisfy the United chief, who knew Barcelona and Real Madrid headed the list of teams lying in wait when the competition resumes in February should his side fail to collect the point they needed.

Valencia took the lead through Pablo Hernandez just after the half hour mark, spoiling United’s hopes of going through the group without conceding a goal.

Anderson then levelled 30 minutes later with only the second goal of his United career and the first at home.

Ferguson had paired Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov in attack and was delighted with the partnership — and particularly with his belief that Rooney is returning to form.

“Absolutely, he did very well again tonight,” said Ferguson.

“His distribution, his leading of the line and his workrate were outstanding tonight. He's getting there, and he's getting there quickly.”

Ferguson said of Rooney's partnership with Dimitar Berbatov: “We've seen flashes of it. Maybe not as much as against Blackburn, for instance, but Berba tonight could have scored another five. He's been unlucky not to score tonight.”

It was not all good news for the hosts, who lost Rio Ferdinand five minutes after the break, which is a worrying development ahead of key Premier League clashes with Arsenal and Chelsea before Christmas.

On a freezing night, when the five Portuguese officials opted to wear tracksuit bottoms and gloves, the message did not appear to have been rammed home effectively enough. Although United dominated possession, Valencia were afforded plenty of space too, with Alejandro Dominguez a particular threat.

So, once Anderson had spurned the glorious opportunity Rooney afforded him with a fabulous return pass, Berbatov had failed in a different way to get round Vicente Guaita and the Valencia keeper had blocked a goalbound Park effort with his legs, the hosts were ripe for being picked off.

Not that Valencia can claim all the credit. Michael Carrick will cringe should he ever watch the build-up again.

The England midfielder almost had too much time to make up his mind what to do with the ball when he collected possession 35 yards from his own goal.

He was still making up his mind when Dominguez stole in, nicked possession, then ran straight at Nemanja Vidic before rolling a square pass to Hernandez.

The midfielder steadied himself, then drilled a low shot through the legs of Ben Amos, starting only his third senior game and his first in Europe, Ferguson having decided to offer the 20-year-old a surprise opportunity.

Within a couple of minutes, United had nearly produced the perfect equaliser.

Rooney may no longer look like a shadow of his old self but his wait for a goal in open play goes on.

When the equaliser finally came it was from a very unexpected source.

For a player with only one goal from his previous 108 United appearances, Anderson showed admirable attacking instinct to follow in Park thunderbolt strike that the overworked Guaita had been unable to hold.

The young Brazilian could not miss this one and gleefully tapped home the rebound from close range before embarking on a double celebration that obviously needs some work.

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