The biggest game of the night was Manchester United against Valencia. Although neither club is domestic champion both clubs have formidable squads and fielded as strong a line up as possible for the clash. Manchester United had to make do without Antonio Valencia, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney, all out due to injury. Valencia qualified for the Champions League courtesy of a great group effort augmented by David Villa and David Silva. Neither Villa or Silva are still at the club. David Villa now plays for Barcelona, after winning the World Cup in the summer with Spain, and David Silva plays for manchester City. In attack Valencia chose to start Roberto Soldado, formerly of Real Madrid. Manchester United chose to play Dmitar Berbatov in attack by himself, with Nani and Ji Sung Park offering occasional support.
The formations both sides started with, and the accompanying mentality, ensured the match was a tight affair with very few clear cut goal scoring opportunities created. Anderson, returning to the Manchester United line up in European competition for the first time in a long while, started the match strongly but towards the end of the match, for the majority of the last thirty minutes in fact, struggled with his fitness. Rio Ferdinand also returned to the line up. He has been a player perenially on the fringes of the first team for the past eighteen months but he has never been able to establish himself as a consistent performer because his injury worries have always returned before the doubt surrounding his return could diminish. Inevitably the same worries appeared here. That withstanding his performance was faultless and alongside Nemanja Vidic he offered the type of defensive platform that Manchester United have been searching for for the past few months, before and after the summer interval. Johnny Evans, watching from the sidelines, will have learnt plenty of lessons watching the two experienced centre backs in action. Rafael also featured for Manchester United, starting at right back. His inclusion was a bit of a surprise as the majority of spectators and analysts expected John O’Shea to start but Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, decided to choose Rafael. His confidence in the young Brazilian full back was not misplaced as the defender had a splendid match, perhaps securing himself the position at right back for the foreseable future. John O’Shea, on the subtitutes bench, is still expected to play against Sunderland on the weekend in the English Premiership, only it is anticipated he will play in a defensive central midfield position, perhaps accompanying Anderson and Darren Fletcher.
Manchester United and Valencia were inseperable for much of the night although Dimitar Berbatov did come close on a couple of occasions for the away team. The Mestalla crowd rarely put the away team under pressure and Manchester United were infrequently under consistent pressure.
Valencia, too, were hardly on the backfoot and until the final moments everybody in the stadium would have agreed that a draw was a fair reflection of the play. Javier Hernandez and Federico Macheda, two substitutes introduced towards the end of the match, combined well after exceptional direct running and link up play from Nani. Hernandez then placed a fine shot into the bottom corner of the net leaving the Valencia goalkeeper Cesar with no chance of making a save. Manchester United stole the points right at the end. The solitary goal turned a good away performance in Europe into a wonderful one. Sir Alex Ferguson was delighted with the result and performance after the match, appropriately so.