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Match Reports

Thoughts on Blackburn and the Weekend action

James Ducker on Times Online

The good news for the other Barclays Premier League clubs is that Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves are injured and Cristiano Ronaldo has yet to find his best form. The bad news is that Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov are starting to hit the high notes, Darren Fletcher and Anderson are no mugs in central midfield, Ryan Giggs continues to defy the years, Rio Ferdinand appears to be impregnable at the back and Ronaldo will start destroying the opposition, as he did so often last season, soon.

Mike Adamson on the Guardian:

This was a glimpse of the future. For 11 minutes here, Manchester United’s forward line read Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Dimitar Berbatov, the first time the fab four have been fielded together. It was short-lived but the quartet sparkled both individually and collectively, suggesting they will soon become the world’s most devastating attack.

As you would have observed by now, the theme of our victory has been fairly consistent across the board. It’s rather convenient to bring up the buzzwords — or should we say buzz-phrases, or rather, buzz-analogies?; the Berbatov-Cantona comparisons, the “mouth-watering fearsome-foursome” — all seem rather made up and artificial to me personally. I must admit, I did fall victim to use of such comparisons, but now it just looks little bigged-up, so to speak, by everyone looking to see such an array of top class talent strut their stuff, all at once, on the field.

One can’t blame them though; after all who wouldn’t want to see Tevez, Rooney, Ronaldo and Berbatov tear the opposing defenders to bits with some mazy interplay? Of course, the question would be asked to fans of sides who are neither our title rivals nor the opposition in question. But the chances of us seeing all four at a time from the start seems a little remote. And Ferguson will have to call upon his famed man management skills to the fore to ensure we are still a team of very good artists performing in harmony — not a set of sulking soloists looking to pitch their compositions at the expense of the symphony. Poorly constructed analogy, but point conveyed, one would hope.

At the moment, at least on Saturday’s evidence, we seem to have a happy bunch. And long may that continue.

Fergie, to everyone’s surprise, chose to start Rooney. Mind games or not, it looks a good indicator of who, between Tevez and Rooney, the manager rates higher. I thought it was unfair to bench Tevez considering we could take it easy on Rooney for the moment. But then, I would hope Fergie’s not making enemies in the dressing room with his team selections. Of course, I really don’t know how many managers can command the amount of respect and ability to manage dressing room egos, in today’s football — so if Fegie can’t do it, I don’t think we can find too many who can. But that’s how it was and Tevez started on the bench for the second game in succession.

But man management aside, I do think I could question Fergie’s tactics at times. Playing Rooney out wide makes little sense to me. Considering the presence of a proper target man, the stage is set for Rooney to do his thing in the “hole”. Thankfully he did get a bit more involved in the second half as he drifted into the middle.

Wes Brown must be a relieved man, though. And his celebration, after scoring the goal, was a sign of how badly he wanted to play — always good to see the hunger, which seemed a little absent at the start of the season, return to many of the players on display on Saturday.

But the performance, on the whole, was a bit iffy, despite the scoreline. We were sublime at times, and, at other times, we gave the ball away too easily. But I could excuse that because the weather was diabolical. It was pissing rain and, perhaps, Noah’s Ark might have seen better days.

But let me reserve a significant portion of my commentary for the attacking end, which, despite all the honours won in the past two seasons, is still — amazingly so — a work in progress. Actually, scratch that — our attack is evolving again, and this time, blossoming into something exciting and equally dangerous. It’s a different beast this, than the devastating one we saw last season. Note the word, different. If our last season’s attack was built upon tactical unpredictability — in terms of defenders being able to read and mark our attack — this season’s attack adopts a more traditional and classical touch, but with a pinch of the sublime added to it.

Both, Berbatov, and Rooney (at his best), are blessed with the deftest of touches. Ronaldo is no mug either. But a significant subtext to our attack — over the past week — is the blossoming of the “pairs”.

I mentioned Ronaldo and Berbatov could link up in a way that could be mouth watering, and Saturday saw a bit of that in great evidence. Berbatov’s vision can pick a pass to an on rushing Ronaldo in counter attacks and it did lead to our second goal. But I see promise in some excellent interplay if Ronaldo hits his high strides of last season. Ronaldo and Rooney are the second pair, and their link up play has been well documented over the past season — as well as against Bolton. The second goal on Saturday served as further evidence.

And finally Rooney and Berbatov. Much has been made about Rooney’s need for a target man to allow him some freedom in his favoured position. The pair has taken time, but are fast developing an understanding that could have already translated into several goals — but for some good goal keeping and a lack of luck. I cannot talk about yet another pair — Tevez and Berbatov, because I’ve seen precious little of that combination.

A triad (of Rooney, Berbatov and Ronaldo) however, could be devastating — but for most part we would attack in pairs.

But from pairs and triads, let’s talk about an individual. Dimitar Berbatov came for an inflated price — and for that I hope to hell Spuds get relegated. But we can already see what he is capable of and has done. A fully fit Louis Saha was a part of such attacking verve at the start of the 06/07 season (and even when Ruud was dropped in the tail end of the 05/06 season). Berbatov is a far fitter (fingers crossed) and a classier version of the Frenchman, and I see us getting only better from here on. As I’ve been saying for the past week or so.

Saturday made me feel happy, as Sunderland held Arsenal to a draw, but Sunday was gloomy, as City inexplicably let in three second half goals to give the dippers another sense of “self-belief” and all that motivational garbage. Watching City vs Liverpool is a strange feeling anyway. It’s like watching an ideological debate between Hitler and Osama bin Laden: you don’t know why you are watching it in the first place; you don’t know how, or whom to cheer; and even if one of them wins you really want the ground they are standing on to gobble them up.

So while my interest was piqued by their half time scoreline, I gave it a pass — partly assuming the ‘dippers will surely not win this one. I just couldn’t believe my eyes when I read about Dirk Cnut’s equaliser — I mean, how does he get time to make contact with the ball when he’s in the midst of his headless chicken routine around the pitch for a good part of the 90 minutes?

Oh well, I think I will have to get back to watching paint dry as the international break approaches. Cheerio.