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Wednesday 03 October 2012

Champions League: Ferguson delight at Man United's new strike duo

Sir Alex Ferguson lauds Man Utd's strike-force after Cluj win; Roberto Di Matteo owes Petr Cech debt

Robin van Persie scores his first UEFA Champions League goal for Manchester United

Sir Alex Ferguson hailed the striking abilities of Robin van Persie and his nascent partnership with Wayne Rooney after the Dutchman's double steered Manchester United to a 2-1 UEFA Champions League win over CFR Cluj in Romania on Tuesday night.

The United manager was delighted by the burgeoning relationship between Rooney and Van Persie, who dovetailed well to ensure Manchester United rallied from a goal down.

The Dutchman scored the goals either side of half-time but the fact that Rooney, starting alongside the Dutchman for the first time, provided the assists on both occasions was a source of great satisfaction for the United manager.

"The second goal was fantastic," he said, of Van Persie’s 49th-minute effort. "It was a great ball from Wayne. I thought he had hit it too far in front of him, but the speed to get to the ball and his deftness of touch were fantastic."

"The best quality Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie have is that they can turn a game"
Sir Alex Ferguson

Rooney had also created Van Persie's first, before half-time, although Ferguson admitted there was an element of luck about that effort, which looped off the former Arsenal striker's shoulder.

"The best quality both of them have is that they can turn a game," said Ferguson. "That is an important feature. It doesn't really matter if they have a personal combination, it is their ability to finish moves off, whether it is through [Tom] Cleverley, Nani or [Antonio] Valencia. We have a pair of really top players who can finish and change a game."

Rather than use the duo in an orthodox partnership, Ferguson played Rooney in the hole just behind Van Persie, although Ferguson remained guarded as to whether this would be his preferred future starting ploy in the future.

"There is always going to be an issue because everyone expects it to be a miracle combination," added Ferguson. "The strength of our team now is definitely in the forward positions.

"We have good alternatives, with Wayne, Shinji [Kagawa], Van Persie, [Danny] Welbeck and [Javier] Hernandez."

In the defence, meanwhile, Ferguson moved to allay concerns over the injury that forced Jonny Evans, who was replaced by Scott Wootton in the latter stages, off the field. According to 70-year-old Evans will be fit for United's trip to Newcastle United on Sunday.

"It is a dead leg," said Ferguson. "He got injured on Saturday and had a recurrence of that. He has five days to recover for Sunday. Hopefully he will be OK."

Ferguson, whose side will qualify for the knockout stage of the Champions League if they muster back-to-back wins over Braga, was also pleased with the performance of goalkeeper David de Gea, who made two excellent saves to preserve United's lead.

Chelsea's Juan Mata stoops to score his second goal against Nordsjaelland

Cech ticks Di Matteo's box

Though Chelsea ran out 4-0 winners against FC Nordsjaelland it was the performance of goalkeeper Petr Cech that provide the cornerstone of their away win, according to manager Roberto Di Matteo.

The Blues were clinging on to a one-goal lead and survived an attempt by Joshua John that came back off the post before David Luiz's free-kick gave the Barclays Premier League side breathing space with a free-kick 11 minutes from time.

Juan Mata then scored his second goal of the evening before Oscar teed up Ramires in the last minute for a comfortable-looking scoreline.

But Di Matteo recognised the importance of Cech's contribution when he tipped John's drive against the post in the 73rd minute when the game was still hanging in the balance.

"Petr Čech made an unbelievable save and we were really grateful, because at the time it was 1-0 and they were playing well"
Roberto Di Matteo

"Petr Čech made an unbelievable save and we were really grateful, because at the time it was 1-0 and they were playing well," said the Italian.

Thereafter the floodgates opened, courtesy of Luiz's thunderous free-kick, that went in off the woodwork: "The second goal was very important, we were much better and sharper in the second half and once we scored the second we knew we were going to win.

"David [Luiz] scores that kind of goal a lot in training, we have just been waiting for one in a match.

Nordsjaelland's succession of chances and Cech's fine save from John left Di Matteo in no doubt about the difficulty of his side's defence of the European club crown will.

"There are no pushovers in the Champions League," he said, pointing to Bayern Munich’s 3-1 defeat by FC BATE Borisov. "Look at Bayern losing, and [Manchester] United having to come back."

"[Cluj] had nothing to lose; when the scoreline's 1-0, it's always dangerous. They committed players forward, and that's how football is. We were looking for that second goal to close the game off. They had one good chance with Petr's crucial save, and a couple of half-decent chances."

Captain John Terry was among those players rested to stay fresh ahead of Chelsea’s home match against Norwich City on Saturday, but Fernando Torres maintained his record of starting every game.

Though the striker failed to find the net, Di Matteo was satisfied with the Spaniard’s contribution. "Torres was excellent," he said. "It's a shame he didn't score in the first half when he had the chance.

"He played very well for the team, was always available and a threat. I was very pleased with him."

Di Matteo was also pleased with Group E rivals Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk drawing in Turin, a result which ensured Chelsea moved top of the section.

"It just shows exactly what I thought about the group," he said. "The Ukrainian champions are a very good team, and it's going to be hard for us to qualify.

It was important to win today. The scoreline shows four goals scored and none conceded, so that's pleasing. Away from home, it's not easy in this competition, and I refer to the results you see tonight."

Group E results

FC Nordsjaelland 0-4 Chelsea
Juventus 1-1 Shakhtar Donetsk

Group H fixtures

CFR Cluj 1-2 Manchester United
Galatasaray 0-2 Braga

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Key Points

  • Sir Alex Ferguson delighted by partnership between Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in Manchester Utd's 2-1 defeat of CFR Cluj
  • Ferguson says both players are able to 'turn a game' after UEFA Champions League victory
  • Roberto Di Matteo praises displays of goalkeeper Petr Cech and striker Fernando Torres after Chelsea beat Nordsjaelland 4-0