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Manchester United made the trip to Istanbul to take on Turkish giants Galatasaray on Tuesday night, with their Champions League future as secure as humanly possible. Four wins in as many games had not only guaranteed Sir Alex's team qualification with two games to spare, but also top spot in the group with no other side within sniffing distance of the Red Devils. Hence it came as no surprise that the Legendary Scot selected his travelling squad of 21 shy of some of most of his superstars, opting to give a handful of youngsters, and some fringe players an opportunity to impress.
While the other teams competing in the Group may not have been impressed, Galatasaray were more than happy to welcome an under-strength United side, and picked up a solid 1-0 win on the back of a second half header from striker Burak Yilmaz. The hosts were good value for their win against a United side that really never turned up, and while their qualification berth is still far from secure, they do hold a slender edge over challengers CFR Cluj, who will need to better Galatasaray's performance on Matchday 6 to give Romania a taste of the last 16 of the Champions League.
Among those starting for Manchester United were summer signing Nick Powell, who was given an opportuity to impress in central midfield with Michael Carrick filling in at center back to accomodate the youngster. Phil Jones, playing his first game of the season after a lengthy injury lay-off, slotted in alongside Carrick, while unsurprisingly it was the duo of Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez who got the nod upfront. Anders Lindegaard was given the job between the posts of keeping Galatasaray at bay.
For Galatasaray, qualification to the knock-out stages hinged on a strong performance today at home with a tough trip to Braga to follow on matchday 6. Uruguayan international stopper Muslera manned the posts, while a pair of familiar faces in former Arsenal defender Emmanuel Eboue and former Liverpool winger Albert Riera were deployed as the full backs. Kaya came into the side for Brazilian veteran defender Cris to partner the powerful Cameroonian Nounkeu, while Inan and Felipe Melo were asked to keep United's midfield in check. Burak Yilmaz had a surprise alongside him in Swedish striker Yohan Elmader, who got the nod ahead of the unlucky Umur Bulut.
The match got off to an expectedly noisy start, making a neutral fan (or in this case a reporter) make the rare wish that he could actually watch football without really listening to it. Both teams had a couple of speculative early shots on goals to get the statsmen into action with Tom Cleverley having a shot from distance which took a kind deflection and nestled into the arms of Muslera, while Burak Yilmaz warmed the hands of Anders Lindegaard.
Soon the tackles had started flying in at Istanbul, and it was hard to see this game finishing 11-v-11. Meanwhile, in front of goal, Yilmaz missed a gilt edged chance from Selcuk Inan's corner.
There was a dearth of clear cut chances for either side though Lindegaard was called into action in the 34th minute, denying Hamit Altintop from distance. Amazingly the best chance of the half came the way of 18-year old Nick Powell in the 43rd minute with the youngster rising well to meet Cleverley's corner, only to be denied by the woodwork.
It was goal-less at half-time in Istanbul, however, with CFR Cluj routing Braga 3-1 in the other game, the pressure was on Galatasaray to come out all guns blazing in the second half.
And the Turkish champions did just that, going ahead in the 54th minute courtesy a header from Burak Yilmaz from Inan's corner. On the balance of play, and considering the desire that Galatasaray showed at the start of this half, it was no less than what they deserved.
Barring a couple of regulation efforts from Anderson and Chicharito, there was no real response from United, who looked to be on the verge of not just losing their second straight game, but also failing to get on the scoresheet. In an attempt to prevent that rare occurence, Sir Alex threw on the forgotten man Federico Macheda and a woefully out of form Ashley Young with a little over a quarter of an hour left in regulation time.
Despite the changes, it was Galatasaray who seemed more inclined to score with Hamit Altintop unleashing one of his patented piledrivers that had Lindegaard well beaten, but came back into play off the underside of the crossbar.
United were getting to see a lot more of the ball with the clock ticking down, but uncharacterisitically lacked imagination in the final third.
There were to be no last minute heroics this time around, and after winning 8 of 11 games this season where they conceded the opening goal, Manchester United have now lost two straight by the same scoreline, 1-0. While Sir Alex may not be too perturbed by the result, he would have liked more of a performance from his side, who really struggled to impose themselves on the game. Nick Powell and Danny Welbeck were the two standout performers though, with the former already exhibiting signs that he will be a force both United and England in the years to come.
Galatasaray meanwhile stay in second place in Group H, still level on points with CFR Cluj, but ahead of the Romanian champions because of their better head-to-head record. Braga meanwhile are out of Europe, despite having impressed in both fixtures against Manchester United, and with just 3 points from 5 games are not even in a position to compete for a Europa League berth.
Galatasaray: Muslera, Eboue, Kaya, Nounkeu, Riera, Altintop, Inan, Felipe Melo, Amrabat (Colak 81'), Burak Yilmaz (Bulut 90'), Elmander (Baytar 63').
Subs: Ceylan, Cris, Bulut, Birinci, Kurtulus, Baytar, Colak.
Man Utd: Lindegaard, Da Silva, Jones, Carrick, Buttner, Anderson (Young 74'), Fletcher, Cleverley, Powell (Macheda 74'), Welbeck (King 85'), Hernandez.
Subs: Johnstone, Young, Macheda, Wootton, Cole, Vermijl, King.
Final Score: Galatasaray 1-0 Manchester United (Burak Yilmaz 54')
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