Manchester United produced their best performance yet under new manager David Moyes on Wednesday as they overcame former Liverpool defender Sami Hyppia’s Bayer Leverkusen 5-0 in Germany to secure progression into the knockout phase of the UEFA Champions League.
What was perhaps even more outstanding than the scoreline was the glitzy performance of veteran Welshman Ryan Giggs, who was instrumental while playing in a role that he is getting more and more accustomed to in central midfield.
Giggs was partnered with regular centre-back Phil Jones at the heart of the Red Devils’ midfield, and this unlikely partnership stifled their German opponents, who currently lie second in the Bundesliga.
It was the sort of clinical, technical performance that former manager and legend Sir Alex Ferguson would have been truly proud of and current boss and fellow Scotsman Moyes was quick to pay tribute to Giggs, who turns 40 on Friday.
Speaking to reporters after the crushing victory, Moyes said: “You cannot question Ryan Giggs as a footballer. He did not look fatigued for his age at all. He is incredible, his vision and fitness are incredible. I am lucky to be working with him.”
Giggs’ masterful performance on Wednesday can be summed up by an impressive set of statistics he racked up during the game.
The midfielder looked accomplished and composed on the ball, which is a lot to say for someone who made his name as a typical winger. He made 62 passes from his deep-lying midfield position, completing an astonishing 92% of them (the most of any player in that game).
He did not shy away from the ball either as he had 79 touches of it, bettered only by centre-back Jonny Evans. His vision, so lavishly praised by all that watched him play, led to three key passes: only Wayne Rooney made more. His delightful chip that put Nani through for the fifth goal was one of nine accurate long balls that Giggs played; no player even came close to matching this.
As the United manager so aptly put it then, he is extremely fortunate that he has Giggs playing at such a high level at his age.
The Red Devils’ midfield troubles are already well documented, what with their most consistent performer Michael Carrick being out until Christmas with an Achilles injury, and the likes of Tom Cleverly, Anderson and Marouane Fellaini all struggling for form.
Giggs and Jones have filled the gap admirably, and Moyes will be glad to have found yet another dimension he can exploit to get the best out of the side.
As Liverpool legend and football pundit John Barnes put it in a post-match analysis, playing Ryan Giggs in a central position works just fine when playing in European competition where the game is more technical than physical.
The pace and intensity of Wednesday’s match pales in comparison to any Premier League game, and this perhaps is a factor that played heavily in United’s (and Giggs’) favour. As a daunting trip to north London to take on a wounded Tottenham side looms large, will Moyes take the gamble and start Giggs as he did against Bayer Leverkusen?
Can a midfield pairing of Giggs and Jones hold out against a compact Spurs’ midfield which likes to dominate the ball, or will the Welshman get over-run by a more physical side?
For one, whoever Moyes chooses to partner Giggs is a critical choice. The midfielder reserved special praise for Phil Jones in a recent interview, saying he “does his running for him.”
Going by this admission, whoever partners him will have to be someone who can match Jones’ energy levels at the heart of midfield. In this aspect alone, Jones remains the only viable option.
Thus the Welshman’s contributions are welcome no doubt, but also pose a few questions for the United boss as to how to use his ageing talisman. He may realise that Giggs provides no more than an alternative, rather than a solution to the problem at hand.
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