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.