Date:Saturday October 18 2008
United are getting into gear now, it's crystal clear. The Champions laboured for 45 minutes then blew West Brom away at Old Trafford to finally get into the top four. With one game in hand as well.
And there is the million dollar question: who was the star of the show? These days the answer is easy and obvious and it is NOT Cristiano Ronaldo. It was of course Wayne Rooney and it would be difficult to name a striker who's in better form than him at the moment.
He was United's standout performer in a first half which was more about West Brom's dogged resistance than about any swagger from the title holders' part. West Brom offered no attacking threat whatsoever but their defence was resilient, disciplined and determined - everything that Middlesbrough who practically surrendered before the game against Chelsea weren't.
United lost Patrice Evra to an injury - he's doubtful for the game against Celtic though hopefully will be available for the trip to Goodison Park - and had a goal disallowed. Who scored it? Yes, you guessed it. It was a highly debatable decision as Zuiverloon simply collapsed when Rooney touched him but in the end it did not matter - though it robbed our lad from the glory of a magnificent finish.
But the truth is that with Park poor on the wing and Fletcher and Giggs being mediocre in central midfield United looked a little lost. There was no real urgency despite our total domination - the 4-4-2 did not really work in the first half after 4-2-3-1 tore Blackburn apart two weeks ago.
What Fergie said at half-time hasn't been revealed but his words made the desired impact: we began the second half in very different fashion, displaying clear intent to break the visitors down. And it did not take very long, either.
On 53 minutes, Berbatov sent Rooney clear, slightly on the left. He cut the ball back then fired it in low to the net at the near post between the desperately sliding Zuiverloon's legs. A neat finish to a sweet move and a deserved breakthrough after 52 minutes of probing.
Everything changed. The rising anxiety and tension disappeared on a whim and you could sense the relief around Old Trafford. United started to pass the ball around confidently and the question was when not if we would add to our tally.
Ronaldo sealed the points with an emphatic finish on 68 minutes, striking home Rooney's defence-splitting pass. Fergie immediately took off Park who, sadly, did not improve with the team and replaced him with Nani.
Berbatov came to life, Rooney orchestrated everything, Fletcher and Giggs started to dominate - even Ronaldo's sustained poor form wasn't really a cause for concern, after all, he usually scores or produces an assist even in this below-par form.
And the match wasn't over with the second goal: Berba got another monkey off his back with scoring his first goal for United though he had the class to celebrate somewhat reservedly as it was a piece of good fortune which he took advantage of to score. But a goal is a goal and it was a good piece of finishing.
Rooney then crowned his own and United's performance by setting up the fourt with a teasing low cross that Nani duly converted from close range. Fitting finish to an impressive second half.
West Brom were well-organised, they had fantastic fighting spirit but their lack of real quality was all so obvious as United overran them in the second half. As I said, the Champions are nearing top speed now - bring on Celtic and Everton!
Date:Saturday October 18 2008
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