City’s comeback stuns Porto; United are high in Amsterdam
Europa League Round-up
Manchester United and Manchester City will both fly back to north-west England with leads to defend after the first legs of their round of 32 Europa League ties. After being knocked out of Europe’s premier club competition prior to Christmas, it would be folly to suggest the Premier League’s current top two were approaching the resumption of European football with any serious anticipation.
However, with the two rivals also eliminated from both domestic cup competitions, Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini both opted to field line-ups akin to a team treating the tournament with the utmost respect.
In Amsterdam, Manchester United produced a business-like display as goals from Ashley Young and Javier Hernandez secured a comfortable victory over Ajax.
Qualification for the last 16 should be a mere formality at Old Trafford now and it was no more than the English side deserved after a much-improved second half showing.
The home team had played at a far higher tempo than their illustrious opponents in the game’s opening half and David de Gea had to be alert on more than one occasion to ensure the period ended goalless.
With the Fergie ‘hairdryer’ treatment possibly proving the catalyst, United came storming out of the blocks in the second half and quickly reaped the rewards.
Ashley Young showed good composure in the box to place his measured drive beyond a trio of defenders on the goal line, before Hernandez’s one-two with Wayne Rooney culminated in the Mexican drilling a shot through the legs of home goalkeeper Vermeer.
In Northern Portugal, Manchester City were faced with what appeared a much tougher task against the reigning competition holders.
Silvestre Varela’s 27th-minute goal, notched after some swift movement, proved too much for the floundering Gael Clichy, and it looked as though it would extend Porto’s unbeaten home European run to eight matches.
Mancini and his side had other ideas though, and spurred on by a small contingent of travelling Sky Blue fans in the Do Dragao, managed to turn the tie in their favour.
Mario Balotelli, the subject of alleged racist abuse from sections of the home support, put Alvaro Perreira under a little more pressure than perhaps he had bargained for, in an aerial duel and a miscommunication between the defender and goalkeeper Helton resulted in the ball bouncing off Perreira’s arm and into the unguarded net. Thereafter, chances were at a premium as the match looked to be petering out into stalemate. But City, taking advantage of a momentary lapse in concentration from the Portuguese, were able to steal a first-leg advantage as Yaya Toure selflessly squared for substitute Sergio Aguero to tap in with six minutes remaining.
A great night for the Manchester clubs, and the blue half especially should be commended for a tremendous result against a side so imperious on their own patch, their last home defeat in their domestic championship occurred way back in October 2008.
Preventing a flawless night for the English contingent though, were Valencia. The Champions League drop-outs from Spain claimed a 1-0 victory against Stoke City at the Britannia, to leave Tony Pulis’s troops with a proverbial mountain to climb. A wonder goal from Turk Mehmet Topa was enough for the two-time European Cup runners-up to return to East Coast of Spain with a notable triumph.