Stage set for Nani to prove his match-winning credentials

GREETINGS from the foothills of the Pyrenees where your correspondent – equipped with half a pound of Etorki cheese and a fetching Catalan beret – is camping en route to Valencia for the second in our series of peachy, beachy away trips.

Scunny and Wearside’s golden stretches do not quite compare with those of the Med Costas, though: this jaunt is undoubtedly the highlight of our autumn campaign, and the last chance to catch some serious rays and warmth before the chill. (Yes, I am aware we also have a visit to Turkey pending, but the scars of 1993 linger long: it’s not one I’m looking forward to, despite the venue’s novelty.)

Valencia are not the force they were, supposedly. Two massive summer departures set against the backdrop of a crippling debt situation is leading many to make some patronising assumptions about the possible ease of our task. Yet as I write, we are digesting the loss of Scholes, Giggs and Rooney, and are being invited to welcome Carrick as our potential saviour.

Hmm: you may recall his disastrous showing last time we met Catalonian opposition.

Forgive me for not betting the farm on him, not least as he must surely be less than 100% physically ready.

Moreover, a defeat tonight, taken in conjunction with the Rangers horror-show, would certainly leave us facing some nasty mathematical possibilities, and a looming threat of a 2005-ish fate.

The stage is thus set for Nani to prove he can be a key man at this level, after his display at Bolton conjured up memories of his brief yet blistering spring purple patch. After all, “continental” skills are precisely what he was bought for, to help us unlock the kinds of polished Iberian formations that resists English meat ‘n’ potatoes predictability all too well.

And if Owen starts, after his three goals in five days, that might prove he has a future here, after weeks of whispering that he’d been repeatedly offered out as a makeweight during the last window.

Personally, in the absence of Rooney, I’d love to see Berbatov and Macheda have a proper go together, although I accept tonight is probably not the best time for such experimentation.

But there was a moment at the Reebok, when the pair interchanged dazzlingly on the edge of the box, when I thought we might have seen a glimpse of the future. Macheda seemed telepathically to understand what Berbatov was doing, and moved accordingly, which is something we have sadly not seen enough of from other Reds over the past two years.

As you have probably surmised, my attitude can be summed up thus: anything to avoid having to see Owen being a central figure in our season. That might sound nose-cuttingly perverse but I’d say a majority of Reds I know agree – the attempted graft of the woolly-back onto Old Trafford’s body has not really taken, and many of us frankly still can’t stand the sight of him. As one typical colleague remarked to me: “I can’t shake the suspicion that Fergie’s really only signed him for the horse tips.”

Still: thanks for the point-saver at Bolton, Mickey.

I fear we Reds may be in for a cold, cold Mancunian winter…


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