Reds Cruise Past Royals – United 2 Reading 1
Manchester United scored two quick goals then held off a typical Reading comeback to book their place in the Quarter-Finals of the FA Cup.
The home squad was set out with important future fixtures in mind. Rooney, Rafael and Evra were given the night off with Ferdinand, Giggs, Carrick and Van Persie on the bench. Vidic returned to captain the side as Ferguson tries to gently rehabilitate his Serbian gladiator.
Brian McDermott’s side didn’t give Manchester United an easy ride but were brushed aside with relative ease. They started in a similar shape to their opponents; a flat back four with two players in attack.
United used their system much more effectively in the opening stages. While the likes of Welbeck and Hernandez were crossing their runs to create space, Hunt and Le Fondre were too static to provide too much of a threat.
The only major points to note during the first half were Federici’s early brilliance, De Gea’s improved handling and the clash between Vidic and Hunt. Both players were left bleeding, Hunt came off worst, but it seemed to spur them on. A blood-stained Hunt was soon chasing everything down and Vidic was bravely making last-ditch clearances.
After 38 minutes United lost Phil Jones to what looked like a very badly sprained ankle. He left the stadium on crutches, which could mean he faces a bigger problem. Ferguson opted to bring Nani into the game, moving Valencia to right-back and Smalling into the centre. He could have brought Rio Ferdinand on as straight defensive swap but chose pace over experience. Nani and Valencia combine to make a speedy right wing. The overlapping runs are always an option, which helps when Nani often cuts inside.
While he usually takes a long time to settle into a game, this time the Portuguese winger got straight into the action. Within seconds of his arrival he had stung Federici’s palms. Then a fine volley from the edge of the box cannoned off the post a few minutes later.
With 20 minutes to go United’s patience paid off as Nani scored a well-deserved opener. Valencia broke down the right and pulled the ball back to Nani, who set himself with his first touch and blasted the ball into the net with his second.
Almost instantly, Reading had a chance to equalise. Noel Hunt nodded down a cross at the far post for Adam Le Fondre to volley at goal. David De Gea was alert though and stopped it with a strong right arm. Although they didn’t concede, United were warned. If they allowed one Reading player to influence the ball deep inside their box it could hand them an easy chance at De Gea.
It can’t have been more than a minute later when Hernandez scored the second. Nani turned provider, whipping the ball in from the right, and Chicharito headed it home. A quick fire double from the Red Devils left Reading down but not out.
A direct ball through the middle from Danny Guthrie forced Smalling to track Le Fondre. When the ball was knocked back out it was Jobi McAnuff who followed up to score. He strolled past United’s centre-backs and tucked his finish under a helpless De Gea. The nature of the goal evidently annoyed Sir Alex and his staff. After the earlier warning, United should have sealed the gap to stop the direct ball. When they allowed Reading through for a second time, the two attackers didn’t hesitate in making United pay.
With the game finely balanced Ferguson brought on Michael Carrick to anchor the midfield and see the game out; he replaced Anderson. The Brazilian No.8 had a good game but was tracking too high up the field in the later stages. Ferguson had to bring on Carrick, a deeper playing midfielder, to plug the gaps that Anderson was leaving exposed.
United tilted the last few minutes in their favour, showing off their composure and almost grabbing a few more goals. Welbeck had two openings where his first touch let him down, Nani forced the excellent Federici into further saves and narrowly missed the target with a late free-kick.
Overall, it was an expected performance from United. With the Champions League and Premier League throwing up some crucial fixtures in the coming weeks the FA Cup was always going to take a back seat. However it still needed to be taken seriously, and if Reading had won this game serious questions would be asked of the rotation squad. Nani was the top performer, coming on and instantly becoming the home side’s most influential player.
UTD RATINGS: DE GEA (7), SMALLING (5), JONES (5), VIDIC (7), BUTTNER (6), VALENCIA (7), CLEVERLEY (5), ANDERSON (6), YOUNG (5), WELBECK (5), HERNANDEZ (8)
SUBS: NANI (9), VAN PERSIE (7), CARRICK (6)