Shakhtar Donetsk's Adriano fights for the ball with Manchester United's Vidic during their Champions League soccer match at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk

Manchester United makes Danny Welbeck’s early opener hold up, draws 1-1 with Shakhtar in the Ukraine

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It wasn’t exactly the ultimate sweep of brilliant relief Manchester United went looking for Wednesday in the Ukraine, but a 1-1 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk qualifies as something of an essential pressure valve considering the state of things lately for the woozy English giants.

Danny Welbeck’s early goal held up until late in the second half, as steadily mounting pressure from the Brazilian-heavy bunch from Shakhtar finally paid off through a fiercely struck equalizer.

First-year Red Devils manager David Moyes may still feel a bit besieged as his club merges back into Premier League play this week, but Manchester United stands reasonably well positioned in Champions League, tied with Shakhtar for first atop Group A, a home win and Wednesday’s road draw now in pocket.

By the end Wednesday against Shakhtar, winners of the last four Ukrainian Premier League titles and now a familiar face around Champions League, United was hanging on, scenes of chaos flashing ominously in and out of United’s penalty area.

The day had started with a bummer as Wayne Rooney was ruled out due to a previously undisclosed injury, a minor shin bruise collected apparently in Tuesday’s training, but one significant enough to keep him out of the match at the Donbass Arena. (Remember this facility from the 2012 European Championships?).

Shakhtar still doesn’t have anything close to Manchester United’s name recognition, and the club may not even be as strong as the one that bounced Chelsea from this competition in 2011, but the Donbass Arena can be a painfully tough place to gather group stage points — especially for a club like United, one trying to arrest a slide. That’s why the early goal from Welbeck (18th minute) worked so wonderfully for United, which looked quite comfortable for about 30 minutes.

Moyes’ men were Barca-esque in keeping the ball early. The Ukraine champs got on the ball for stretches here and there, but the whistles were out by half an hour from fans tired of seeing United boss the ball.

Marouane Fellaini was having a sizeable influence in the midfield when he turned with a ball along the right side of Shakhtar’s penalty area. A flubbed clearance from the home team left a tantalizing ball five yards from goal and Welbeck, with barely a touch on the ball to that point, pounced with authority to score from close range

Robin van Persie occasionally unloaded some of his skill and class with a swell touch in the build-up, but real chances were rare before the break aside from Welbeck’s opener. At the other end, Moyes’ men got the defending mostly right, keeping pressure off David “Taco” de Gea (who once “trained poorly” and “ate too many tacos,” eh?) in United’s goal.

Shakhtar turned up the pressure after that first, sluggish half hour, although United’s Nemanja Vidic-led back line remained generally solid. Brazilian attacker Taison was slicing up United’s midfield a bit, and in the 76th minute he came rampaging through to clean up the one ball Moyes men could not quite deal with.

Shakhtar continued to press from there, and there were nervous moments, but United needed only a big moment or two from de Gea over the last quarter hour to secure the valuable draw.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.