That’s not to say there weren’t a few eye-catching incidents on the night. Here are 5 which will have surprised and intrigued many a fan.
1. Centre back partnership of Fryers and Carrick, then Berbatov
The starting line up saw a highly unusual partnership at centre back with Sir Alex deciding to pair Carrick, as we know a central midfielder although has played in defence before, with 19 year old Ezekiel Fryers, a left back by trade. And yet somehow, it worked. Many questions would have been raised if Leeds had provided a sterner challenge to the two on the night but credit to them both, Carrick held the line well and Fryers looked assured throughout. Ben Amos was left most of the night with not a lot to do but enjoy the occasion and the clean sheet that came with it. Zeki, as he is affectionately known, was particularly impressive. A cup tie at Elland Road is a daunting first team debut for anyone but he remained calm and composed. If his inexperience ever saw him dragged out of place positionally, his speed was more than enough to nullify any threats.
In contrast to his style of play, the last 10 minutes saw everyones’ favourite Bulgarian slip comfortably into the the back four alongside Carrick. According to Man of the Match Owen’s interview after the game and Rio’s tweets, Berbatov quite fancies himself as a centre back on the training ground. Less running around for him I’d imagine.
2. Valencia’s quality at right back
Valencia is another player who has recently had to get used to playing out of position in order to get game time in a squad that’s proving to be very competitive this season. Once again just as he needed to be against Chelsea on Sunday, Valencia was solid at right back. No nonsense defending, the strength to shrug off any attackers and the intensity to win the ball everytime means that he’s become quite adept at slotting in at fullback when need be. And that’s without considering the attacking prowess he also offers when he makes his trademark runs to the opponent’s byline. This meant the game finished with Fabio and Valencia at fullbacks, with Carrick and Berbatov the centre backs. Possibly the most attacking back four United have ever seen in their history. Then again, attack is the best form of defence.
3. Giggs, at 37, is a machine
This of course, should come as no surprise to many of us. And yet, whenever I see Giggs on the pitch in the famous Red, he still manages to amaze me. How he is doing this, at 37 years old, in central midfield, baffles me every time. The man is a consummate athlete and professional. Much can be said about his off the field indiscretions that have risen earlier this year, but when he plays for United, he still shines brighter than most of the stars on the pitch. 45 minutes was all that was needed for Giggs to effectively dismiss Leeds on the night. His work was done by half time and Fergie could afford to let him put his feet up on the bench for the second half. Saving him no doubt for another glorious performance to come against Stoke at the weekend or Basel next week.
4. The Istanbul chants from United fans
A sour note on the night was the chants from the United fans during the game. Although our fans were in full voice and supported our boys superbly, there is no excuse for some of the very distasteful songs which were sung yesterday evening about the two Leeds fans who lost their lives in Istanbul in April 2000. Leeds are no saints either, they have a history of singing about the Munich air disaster and last night was no different. Any chants about Heysel, Hillsborough, Istanbul or Munich should never be tolerated, particularly by fans who have lost some of their own through such tragic circumstances. Immediate fines and bans need to be imposed on supporters who encourage such behaviour.
5. Although not a first-teamer at United, Owen is good enough for England
Last night Owen reminded us what we already knew about him. He’s a goal scorer. And he’s ready to strike at any time when needed. Owen knows his role within the United squad and credit to Sir Alex, he handles him perfectly. How many other players are ready and willing to do what’s best for the team and sit out many games only to be called upon when needed to give 100% for the cause. It’s no wonder Owen was on the substitute bench in the Champions League Final earlier this year instead of Berbatov. Owen will continue to work hard in training and during games when his team needs him. As a substitute for England, he can provide that cutting edge which can be oh so precious in the last 20 minutes when your team needs that little bit of class and experience up front to grab a goal. Does that not sound appealing to you Mr. Capello?