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Manchester clubs show more flaws

FOX Soccer: Reaction to Manchester United's draw vs. Shakhtar Donetsk.
FOX Soccer: Reaction to Manchester United's draw vs. Shakhtar Donetsk.
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Leander Schaerlaeckens

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for The New York Times, The Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.

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Manchester United and Manchester City struggled again in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday night, with City getting blitzed 3-1 by champions Bayern Munich and United settling for an away point in Ukraine after a late gaffe by defender Nemanja Vidic. Both teams look very flawed and despite the current standings, there are serious questions over their European credentials.

More than anything, the game in Ukraine was ugly. Disconcerting too, but especially ugly. Manchester United could count itself lucky to be leaving Ukraine with a 1-1 draw against Shakhtar Donetsk after yet another abject performance.

If new manager David Moyes had hoped to relieve some of the pressure mounting on him amidst his shambolic 2-3-1 start to United’s Barclays Premier League season with a second consecutive European win, the game only really made things worse. Certainly, taking a point in a mid-week affair at the far end of Eastern Europe is nothing to sniff at. But then the manner in which it was won was so unsightly as to wipe out any positives.

With four points from two games, United now treads on solid footing in its Champions League campaign -- even if Moyes has already acknowledged that United don’t have the players to win this tournament. But that admission hardly masks what was a deficient outing by the team that lost forever-time manager Sir Alex Ferguson to retirement this summer. While Wayne Rooney was out with a shin injury picked up in practice the day prior, the much-missed fellow forward Robin van Persie, United’s salt-and-pepper haired prince, was back and made little difference.

The Dutchman could hardly get the stuttering offense going though, for United were static and predictable in attack yet again. This was made all the more plain by the glaring contrast with Shakhtar, which looked dynamic and surprising. Theirs is a highly gifted team that’s still in the process of getting its personnel to gel after losing key players Willian, Fernandinho and Henrikh Mkhitaryan this past summer. Yet they were far more fluid than United, which started its attacks through Michael Carrick only to see it strand somewhere between fellow midfielders Marouane Fellaini and Tom Cleverley and the largely invisible wingers Danny Welbeck and Antonio Valencia at every turn.

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Somehow, United did manage to scratch a goal in the 18th minute, when Fellaini did some good work in the box. He freed himself up and saw his low cross mishandled by Yaroslav Rakitskiy, who laid it on a platter for the stalking Welbeck, allowing the latter to slide it past Andriy Pyatov from up close.

This unleashed a tide of Shakhtar attacks, run by its small army of physical yet technical Brazilians, which they sustained for the remainder of the game. With wave after wave crashing onto United’s tenuous beachhead of a defense, it seemed inevitable that some footballing justice should prevail. And so it did in the 75th minute, when Nemanja Vidic’s poor clearance on yet another cross rolled right into path of charging Taison, who slammed the ball into the roof of goal.

Chris Smalling deflected an 85th minute Luiz Adriano cross at his own goal, which David de Gea pushed over with a smart reaction save to preserve the draw for United, robbing Shakhtar of its ultimate and deserved due.

"There was a bit of disappointment we didn't see the game out," said Moyes. "But Shakhtar are a good team, with a great reputation, so I don't think it was too bad a result. We never play for a draw we play to win. It wasn't the most exciting game, both teams had three points before the match and I think we both wanted to make sure we got something from the game."

The news was grimmer for Manuel Pellegrini, who will have many questions to answer after an embarrassing display at the Etihad that is not truly reflected in the final scoreline. Bayern put on on a clinic in the first half, out-thinking, out-working and simply out-playing a City team that were frequently unable to get a touch on the ball.

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Worse was the performance of keeper Joe Hart, who has had a series of games to forget -- so atrocious that it may well cost him his job for England. He gifted Franck Ribery a goal after only seven minutes when he allowed a long-range strike at his near post to bounce through his gloves. It was a schoolboy error, no matter that it was suffered at the feet of a genius like Ribery.

Hart would compound his misery -- and effectively end the game as a contest -- just after the break when he and Gael Clichy failed to communicate. Dante flipped a lovely, long diagonal ball into acres of space, Thomas Muller ran on to it, ran round a stunned Hart, and put it in the net. The run was lovely, but the mistake was Hart’s: he did not marshal his defenders in front of him. In fact, the only goal Hart didn’t completely muck up was the final one, a classic bit of Arjen Robben right-to-left magic that again foiled the keeper. Should we mention it was at his near post?

But if Hart was awful -- and he was -- so were some of Pellegrini’s decisions. Such as: why didn’t David Silva start? When the creative midfielder came on with twenty minutes to play, City were a team transformed. Suddenly, they had someone to hold the ball and who had the vision to distribute. Alvaro Negredo would benefit from Silva just nine minutes later. And, when Jerome Boateng was dismissed for a professional foul to stop Yaya Toure clean in on net, City made things a bit nervous for the Germans. Yet that purple patch was for all of four minutes. The previous 86 were largely a mess.

And Pellegrini admitted as much, telling Sky Sports: "We played very bad. Bayern Munich played a very good game as always. We learned an important lesson in their goals. We didn't have enough time with the ball at our feet.

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"I think that we were playing in a different way. They had possession of the ball and I don't think we can make the change to fight that. I always think a lot of things before and after the match. It was a possibility, but I thought this was the best way to play. I will talk about that with the players in private.

Pellegrini was brought into repair the European follies suffered by City under Roberto Mancini -- a man, it must be noted, who got a solid draw in Italy against Juventus with his new club, Galatasaray. But with City sitting in seventh in the Premier League and second in the Champions League group only by virtue of its weakness, it seems those failings still persist. Whether or not they can be addressed remains to be seen.

FOXSoccer.com's Jamie Trecker contributed to this report.

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