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United warmup for Arsenal with second half blitz

Wigan were given a right thrashing in a second half rout which saw first goals of the season for Nani and Berbatov and a debut goal for Owen.

There were plenty of positives to take from a match where we scored 5 goals — it is a gross understatement; after all, following the sluggish start, one can only take positives from such a result — but the most intriguing thing about the match for me was the absence of Michael Carrick, who didn’t even make it to the bench.

I don’t want to make a big deal out of all this (thus pouring cold water over our win) but I find it rather curious now that, for the second time this season Carrick hasn’t made the bench. This is a player who made about 50 appearances for us each season on average. When rumours circulated during the Birmingham game about him not being on good terms with Fergie, I was quick to dismiss them as idle gossip. I find it hard to ignore this now because Carrick has been the mainstay for much of his United career when Fergie used to rotate the side. More often than not, you’ll see Carrick make the starting XI. I find it surprising, to say the least, that he does not even make the bench. It just doesn’t add up to me. I won’t make wild assumptions and speculate too much on this, but it has been gnawing at the back of my head for a while now, and I had to let it out.

Anyway, on to brighter things, the match was a strange one for me despite the massive win. We started out well, but tailed off as the match wore on in the first half. Our best chances of the first half were through Nani and Berbatov and they weren’t converted. But other than that, I found us quite static. Wigan did well to hold their own in the first half, but they still did afford our midfield a lot of space to work with. Especially considering they had three midfielders to our two, I felt they did a poor job of making that extra man count. But more on the midfield in a bit.

The second half was also more of the same. We continued to huff and puff, and despite the domination, I found it hard to see where we were going to get a goal until it actually arrived out of the blue. From then on however, we were completely transformed. It’s a funny thing, they say, how goals can change a team. However, credit should go to our best attackers on the day, Nani and Berbatov. Berbatov especially, after the stick he’s had from a lot of people, including some on this site. It felt like we were watching an imposter — an imposter with the same silken touch, but an aggressive edge that gave it away. He went for tackles, won the ball on countless occasions and spread it well. And then came his goal. Whilst he did superbly to lob the ball over the ‘keeper and scramble it into the open net, what made this more special was his celebration. Like he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders and someone walked by and offered to relieve him of his burden. He celebrated like he won a £20m lottery — I suspect that’s high even by footballer standards — which gave me the biggest high watching the goal. That, and the celebration of all the players following the goal. This is about the team, and as much as we recognize the importance of Ronaldo’s contribution, this right now, is about the collective.

At least that’s what I saw. I could, of course, just be hallucinating.

Wayne Rooney was once again above adjectives. If he stays injury free, and is played upfront, this will be his break out season. There are two big ifs there, but they are plausible hopes, I hope. He’s also shown marked improvement in his heading ability.

Michael Owen, scored off the toughest chance he’s ever had this season. It was the finish of a seasoned striker, and he’s impressed me with his movement in all the minutes he’s played since Birmingham. He needs a midfielder who can go forward and provide him with a telling pass. Which is what’s impressed me about Nani this season. He’s always been talented, and always had the gift of providing good crosses. But this season he’s shown a big improvement on his decision making. It’s all part of the learning curve, and hopefully this is a start of better things to come.

Cautionary tales

There has to be some, and what concerns me is the central midfield. Scholes was excellent on Saturday, but that was because he was allowed enough space. Fletcher was fantastic, but my concern rests with the fact that we need to have a settled lineup if we are to come through our next three matches (Arsenal, Man City and Spurs) unscathed. Scholes cannot, and I maintain, cannot be expected to produce standout performances against more physically imposing midfielders, or simply opposition like Arsenal who love to keep possession. Carrick, despite being poor so far, is our best bet alongside Fletcher. Fletcher deserves to lock in his midfield spot purely on merit. I am — and this might annoy a lot of his fans — not completely convinced about Anderson. He is still far too inconsistent.

A 5-0 win sets us up nicely ahead of the Arsenal game — a side that just pummeled Pompey into submission. But we need to be wary about not getting too ahead of ourselves. We aren’t necessarily “back on track”. If Burnley put us off our path, Wigan got us in sight of it. The next three matches will test us if we can get back and stay on it.

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