So the warning signs that were mentioned prior to the match were, after all, unnecessary. Or so it seems. Rooney’s injury had indeed caused such a scare among much of us fans that we did fail to see that we are not as much dependent on one or two individuals in particular as we think we are. Of course, Rooney’s injury, at the beginning, coincided with our most barren patch this season. His return, along with that of Ronaldo’s helped rocket the team up the league table scoring a record number of goals in the process. It should also be noted that Paul Scholes, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick were all missing at different times of the season.
So it is no real surprise when Fergie hails this side as the strongest he’s ever had.
“This is a good young team coming together, playing the right way,” said Ferguson. “They have great courage in the way they want to play. They want to win something and the signs are good. They have a great chance of doing that. I believe this is the strongest squad I have ever had, so much so that I think I would be pushed to name my overall best team. This is what I have been working towards. I don’t like the short-term fix. I prefer to see a pool of players emerge and develop into something special which – believe me – is what is happening at Old Trafford this season. We have the young players led by Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo and now joined by the likes of Carlos Tevez, Nani and Anderson.”
This depth was on evidence yesterday as United showed why they are now, quite easily, among the best counter attacking and clinical sides in Europe. The performance wasn’t particularly eye-popping, though. Blackburn matched us early on, Christopher Samba thumping the ball to hit the post — which shouldn’t have been allowed in the first place due to a foul on Ronaldo leading to the shot.
But United showed a glimpse of intent when a Ronaldo shot, from a Giggs corner, was cleared off the line by Bentley — who would have had a word with his kit man for spelling his name wrongly. The wait wasn’t too long, though, as in the 34th minute, from another Giggs corner, Ronaldo powered in an unstoppable header. This was perfectly taken as it isn’t quite easy to be scoring from the distance that he did. His cause was helped by some lax marking on the part of Mokoena.
But this wasn’t all. In the very next minute, Vidic hoofed the ball up the field as the ball was helped on to Saha by Brett Emerton. Saha passed it forward to Tevez as he and Ronaldo broke forward in pace. Tevez took one look and threaded a pass off the outside of his foot to Ronaldo, who showed the sort of composure of a poacher, to coolly slot it home. 2-0 and Blackburn might have been wondering if they did anything really wrong.
The match was killed off in the second half as Dunne got sent off for a second yellow, which was harsh. But United showed enough professionalism to get the job done.
Performances? Well, to start with, Ronaldo stepped up to show us that he could pitch in when Rooney wasn’t around. It was sad that he couldn’t get his hat trick — he was operating as a striker towards the end of the match, looking for that third goal! Carlos Tevez continues to show why SAF was willing to go to great extents to get his signature. He setup a goal and his tireless running ensured that we did not miss Rooney too much. Ryan Giggs had his best match of the season. He showed glimpses of old, with his close control, turn and movement and it feels nice to see that. Now he will get some more rest with the international break and will, hopefully, return with renewed vigour.
Saha didn’t have too much of an impact. He still seems a bit short on match fitness. But I thought he did hold the ball up well at times and he was involved in the build up to the second goal. So job well done. The thing with Saha is that his value is felt when he is not playing. He does a good job engaging defenders which opens up space for the others. So in the absence of Rooney, his presence is key to us maintaining our position in the league.
Owen Hargreaves hustled and got stuck in nicely. Another excellent addition to the squad that gives us the bite we’ve lacked all this while. Anderson had a mixed game. He tracked back and won a few tackles in the first half but also misplaced a lot of passes. But in the second half he was pinging long passes at will. He had a little bit of skill to show too before being brought down. The kid is learning quickly and even had the confidence to take one of the corners. Unfortunately for Michael Carrick, Anderson is playing too well to be dropped. But Carrick’s calming influence and experience would be crucial. He made a substitute appearance and he will certainly have an important role to play this season.
The defence was rock solid, as usual. There were some nervy moments, early on, when Benny McCarthy had a sniff of a chance. But other than that, they did a great job keeping things tidy at the back. It’s satisfying to see a clean sheet in the league after a while. Evra, once again, impressed going forward as well as defensively.
It’s the international break that will enforce a lull for two weeks. Hopefully Rooney’s superhuman powers of recovery help him to return well in time for the Liverpool game. And we will continue our prayers well into the international break, hoping our players return in one piece.
And before I end this, a word on the unfortunate Lazio fan who got shot by police by what the police have termed “a tragic error”. While it’s alright that sport ignites passions in people, it is saddening if incidents like this happen and taint, what we know as, the beautiful game. As reports pour in, violent clashes have erupted between fans and police in other games as well, as fans were visibly stunned by the incident.
Our condolences to the family of Gabriele Sandri. Rest In Peace.
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