Glasgow Rangers’s well-deserved draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford Tuesday night is a massive confidence boost for the Scottish club, but the nil-nil draw may end up being a harbinger of what will come in the Premier League for the remainder of the season.
Rangers made it look relatively easy, but you can guarantee that many managers of Premier League clubs were watching Walter Smith’s tactics tonight thinking that they can replicate a similar result when they come to visit Old Trafford this season.
You would be hard pressed to find other teams that played more defensively than Rangers. Oftentimes they played with a 5-4-1 formation, sometimes reverting to a 5-3-1-1. By clogging up the middle of the park, they literally formed a wall around the Rangers goal preventing Manchester United from getting clear shots on goal and blocking any passes or crosses coming into the box. Except for a couple of shots that got through the Rangers defense courtesy of Darron Gibson, it was flawless. The level of concentration and organization displayed by Rangers was extremely impressive. And one of many highlights for the team was the performance of defensive midfielder (and American) Maurice Edu.
Rangers held on for a nil-nil draw and earned a morale victory by securing the one point. They’ll travel back to Scotland with their heads held up, while Manchester United supporters will feel frustrated that the Red Devils were unable to break down a stubborn defense. To make matters worse, Man United right winger Antonio Valencia was stretchered off and will miss a the rest of the season after suffering a broken leg and dislocating his ankle.
Just as teams have battened down the hatches when they’ve faced more skillful sides such as Arsenal or Barcelona, it’s extremely likely that clubs will also use the same tactics against Manchester United in the league. So don’t be surprised if you see some dire matches at Old Trafford in the coming weeks. But Tuesday night could have been so different for Manchester United if one of three things had happened:
- If one of Darron Gibson’s shots was on target, he would have scored.
- If Fabio Da Silva wasn’t playing, Manchester United would have been far more dangerous down the left wing. Fabio was absolutely awful at crossing the ball into the box. Each time he knocked it in, it was a gift for the Rangers defense who easily cleared it. When Ryan Giggs came on in the second half, he was able to make several more clinical crosses than Fabio’s weak attempts.
- If Giggs had started the game, he would have been able to unlock the Rangers defense. Time after time, Manchester United floated the ball into the box which was easily knocked away by Rangers. But a player of Giggs’s capability would have been able to penetrate the Rangers defense by dribbling past them and opening up space. Giggs showed some of that magic late in the second half, but it was too little too late.
For Manchester United, it’s back to the drawing board now as they prepare for Sunday’s mega clash against Liverpool. Sir Alex Ferguson has a lot to ponder and will desperately be in need of three points to revitalize his side and to get them firing on all cylinders. Right now, United seems like a draw machine, drawing 60% of their games (3 out of 5) since the start of the 2010-11 season.