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Fleet Street: United Down & Nearly Out

United are not quite being written out of the Champions League after the 2-2 draw with Porto, but they are being written down...

Perhaps the most damning conclusion from the draw at Old Trafford is provided by The Times' Oliver Kay, who writes: 'They could have no complaints. Even when it briefly seemed last night that they had papered over the yawning cracks that could be seen during another slipshod display, they looked like a flagging team whose luck was in serious danger of running out.

'Fatigue was inevitable last night, two days after a draining 3-2 victory over Aston Villa. Ferguson played down the idea of a more lasting problem, no doubt encouraged that his team again continued to battle until the very end of another match that was played at a high tempo throughout, but something is not right about United at the moment.'

The Guardian's Daniel Taylor also focuses on the timing of United's game with Villa: 'Perhaps in hindsight Sir Alex Ferguson may reluctantly have to admit he was wrong to take his calculated gamble with the fixture list. Manchester United's manager had turned down the opportunity to give his players another day to prepare for this match and, in doing so, he was blatantly asking too much of them.

'What other conclusion could be drawn after an evening in which United's performance never got above six out of 10 and, in the worst moments, they looked so flat, so weary and so laboured it was difficult to know whether this was indeed a brilliant result for Porto or actually a chance gone begging?

'The damage could, undoubtedly should, have been far more substantial and, when it comes to looking for a reason, it is difficult not to apportion some, if not all, of the blame on Ferguson's decision to play Aston Villa at 4pm on Sunday rather than switching it, as Sky had offered, to a lunchtime kick-off on Saturday.'

Over at The Independent, Ian Herbert spots another damaging mistake: 'The problems metamorphosed through the team which, it must be said, was an imbalanced one. When Wayne Rooney is posted, with all other striking options apparently inadequate, into a lone striker's role, United are deprived of a prime creative force and the game was 39 minutes old before he drifted back to turn supplier. The effect was immediate and one United hadn't experienced with two of the offensive midfielders - Ji-Sung Park and Darren Fletcher - fighters but not creators.'

'Life got marginally better after the interval, Ronaldo operating alongside Rooney and Ryan Giggs, all effervescence, arriving in place of Park United assuming more shape. But it was not enough.'

Would a full-strength United have prospered? The Daily Telegraph's Henry Winter seems to think so: 'Such was the confusion that reigned in United's defence and midfield at times that the mind briefly turned to absent friends. Rio Ferdinand would have brought pace and organisation to a dishevelled back-line. Owen Hargreaves would have anchored midfield, ensuring that Porto's accomplished counter-attackers did not enjoy the freedom of Old Trafford as last night.'

According to the very average Matt Lawton in The Daily Mail, 'Four minutes in, and they knew that against Porto's lighting-quick three-man attack, a back four lacking cohesion as well as energy was going to struggle.

'They weren't helped by the fact that the midfielders deployed in front of them were just as ineffective. Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher were surprisingly poor. But their defensive colleagues were so terrified of Porto's pace, they sat disastrously deep and simply invited the Portuguese champions to exploit the space.'

But the final word goes to Steven Howard of The Sun: 'It was as if the lessons of Sunday's Great Escape had gone in one ear and out the other.

'As if it had been no more than United deserved rather than another huge wake-up call to which they had to respond.

'If there had been poor defending on Sunday, this was even worse.

'Perhaps, deep down, the players had the nagging suspicion the 3-2 win over Villa merely papered over the cracks. Well, they have a week to get the plasterers in.'

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