Date:Sunday March 23 2008
Does it get any sweeter in the league than beating Liverpool 3-0 with a Manchester-born player scoring the first goal and their loudmouth midfield thug being sent off? Not really I think but Arsenal's defeat certainly increased the sense of occasion.
To be honest, I felt a bit of apprehension when I saw our starting line-up. I mean, Scholes and Carrick against Mascherano, Alonso and Gerrard? I felt that our midfield, though technically excellent, would be off the pace and static, leaving Rooney isolated. I couldn't have been more wrong and it shows what do I know about tactics compared to Fergie.
The level of passing displayed by Carrick, Scholes and Anderson allowed United to control the match from the very first whistle. We could have been ahead early on as Anderson's superb threaded pass was picked up by Rooney, he held off Carragher but lost his balance and could not lift the ball over the advancing Reina. I felt we couldn't afford to miss such chances but fortunately, I've been proved wrong on this account, too.
However, Rooney was wasteful again, first he did not bring down well enough a fantastic Scholes lob and the ball bounced to Reina. Then the same young man headed the ball into the arms of the keeper from close range while Ronaldo hit the post after getting on the end of an in-swinging Giggs-freekick.
Liverpool, meanwhile, offered very little, almost none at all in attack, apart from a deflected Gerrard effort. Torres was completely neutralised by fit-again Rio Ferdinand and the solid Nemanja Vidic. Brown was skinned embarassingly by Babel on one occasion but he was more than comfortable otherwise. And I do not wish to offend Evra by going into details about his 'duel' with Kuyt.
Carrick and Scholes continued to collect and spread the balls impressively and the breakthrough arrived, via a rather rare all-English combination. Scholes knocked a rather less precise ball than usual but Rooney gathered it on the left, looked in and swung it in. Brown rose while Skrtel remained rooted to the spot and Reina, urged by some unfathomable desire, rushed out of his goal to no man's land so Brown's header gently landed in the empty net to trigger scenes of jubilation all around Old Trafford.
Mascherano, however, provoked vicious abuse with a dreadful challenge on Scholes that earned a yellow early on and spent the rest of the half complaining at just about every incident. Finally, just before half time, Bennett had enough: after booking Torres for dissent, Mascherano ran forwards from the other side of the pitch, his teammates failed to restrain him and he tried to convince the referee with his face inches of Bennett's who duly showed him the second yellow card. The clever Argentinian had to ushered down the tunnel to prevent him killing someone - it was fun, really!
The second half, apart from a five-minute period, was close to embarassing. United made full advantage of the extra men as they passed the ball around with calmness and composure and the visitors' players more often than not got nowhere near the ball. We could have been ahead in the second minute really when Ronaldo was sent clear by the excellent Scholes but he failed to get his shot past Reina.
The event repeated itself with the only difference being that some minutes later Rooney missed the chance. Then, in the 80th minute, yet again, Ronaldo was sent through, this time by Rooney if I recall correctly, he blasted the ball which was deflected onto the post from Reina...
I wanted to scream in frustration at this point particularly as Tevez also missed a gilt-edged chance not long before to seal the win but I needn't have worried. From the resulting corner after Ronaldo's chance, Nani's perfect cross found his compatriot who headed into the far corner with Reina picking flowers yet again.
The relief was too obvious all around the stadium and substitute Nani capped a great afternoon's work: the impressive Rooney sent him through with a clever pass, he pulled the ball back then fired into the low corner of the net from 17 yards. A wonderful goal and a deserved win.
When Arsenal then went in front at Stamford Bridge I was worried - their win would have been the very worst outcome. Fortunately, Drogba equalised and I prayed that it remained the final result but the Ivorian had other ideas and turned Chelsea into our number one title rival. Bit of a deja vu, really.
However, it's clear that the winners of this weekend were Manchester United. We are now five points clear at the top, have the best goal difference by a country mile, the best squad and the best manager. It's ours to lose now.
Date:Sunday March 23 2008
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|1. Man City||3||3||0||0||8||9|
|2. Leicester City||3||2||1||0||3||7|
|4. Man Utd||3||2||1||0||2||7|
|5. Crystal Palace||3||2||0||1||2||6|
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