Manchester United will travel back home with a point from their trip to Moscow to face CSKA, and overall Louis Van Gaal will be rather pleased with the way his side played.
[ RECAP: CSKA 1-1 United ]
United fought back well on a freezing night in Russia, as they now sit in second place in Group B with four points from their opening three games and are just two points behind leaders Wolfsburg heading into a home game against CSKA two weeks from now.
Here are three things we learned on a chilly night in the Russian capital.
SLUGGISH UNITED RECOVER
After a bright start CSKA’s opener after 15 minutes really set the Red Devils back and van Gaal’s boys did well to battle their way back into the game and nick a point. Anthony Martial gave away a penalty kick for a clear handball inside the box with Mario Fernandes causing all kinds of problems down the right flank, and some bad luck arrived as David De Gea brilliantly saved Roman Eremenko’s spot kick but the ball then ricocheted both off the post and De Gea’s legs and fell straight to Seydou Doumbia who hammered home to put the hosts ahead. They held things together pretty well at the back for the rest of the game but United’s lack of fluidity in the final third will have annoyed their boss. Wayne Rooney once again cut a forlorn figure up top, as Martial and Jesse Lingard struggled to support him in attack.
Van Gaal’s substitution at half time made a big difference as Bastian Schweinsteiger put in another leggy performance which epitomized United in the first half. No zip. No creativity. No drive. When Marouane Fellaini came on in the second half, he was more direct and CSKA sat deeper to allow Lingard and Martial space to run into. It was unlikely CSKA could keep up the workrate they exhibited in the first half for the entire game and when all is said and done, both teams will be happy with a point before they reconvene at Old Trafford on November 4.
LVG’S TINKERING CONTINUES
Before this game van Gaal said he would take a point away at CSKA. That’s exactly what he got and with some of his personnel choices, you wonder if he was attacking enough from the start or if he got it spot on. United looked comfortable early on but then the opening goal saw them wobble as they continued to turnover the ball and De Gea was forced into some good saves, the best coming from Ahmed Musa in the 30th minute, to keep them in it. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling at center back is still not convincing and neither is Marcos Rojo at left back. In Daley Blind United have a player who can slot into either of those spots. I’d expect to see him line up at left back against Manchester City in the big derby on Sunday (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) and with Schweinsteiger struggling, Michael Carrick coming into the center of midfield seems likely with Juan Mata and Memphis also clambering for a start. Then there is Matteo Darmian, who was left out in favor of Antonio Valencia who whipped in a great cross for Martial’s goal.
Van Gaal certainly has options, especially in midfield, and although United had a few hairy moments in Moscow, they weathered the storm and you would say that a point on the road against a team who have given plenty of Europe’s other big boys problems in the past (including their neighbors City… just look at Doumbia’s stats against Manchester clubs) is fine. The only worry would be the lack of clear cut chances created. After bossing possession with 72 percent of the ball, United only had three shots on goal during the game and it is likely they need much more ingenuity to carve out chances against City on Sunday.
MARTIAL MAKES AMENDS
After giving away a penalty kick for a handball inside his own box 15 minutes into the game, you could have forgiven Martial for going missing for the rest of the game. However, the teenager proved he has lots of grit to go with his undoubted talent as he dug deep and headed in United’s equalizer with a perfectly controlled header 25 minutes from time. That goal was his fifth for his new club and the maturity the French international is showing is remarkable.
With a price-tag of $60 million hanging over him, he’s playing without a care in the world and heading into the derby this weekend, he’s the only one of United’s forwards who looks like causing real damage or scoring anytime he gets near the box. Martial made a mistake for CSKA’s opener and was given a tough time by CSKA’s full back Fernandes in the first half, yet, he figured it out and once again showed maturity beyond his years to grab a good point on the road for his side.