A Stylish Farewell To 2009
All in all, 2009 was a good year for Manchester United. Sure, we had our fair share of problems (losing the Champions League final, the departure of our best player, the endless injuries etc.) but in the end, we won our 18th league title and still have a realistic chance of landing the 19th as well.
And we said goodbye to 2009 in style: for the first time this season, Old Trafford witnessed a demolition on the grand scale. Wigan were outplayed for 90 minutes, they were chasing shadows all night and that it took as long as 27 minutes for United to break the deadlock is almost miraculous.
The Champions, for once, looked like Champions: from the kickoff we set a high tempo, we passed the ball intelligently and we had clear ideas about how to disrupt and stretch the Wigan defence. Once again, Carrick and Fletcher were deployed in midfield and it's painfully obvious that their partnership is the best we have in the middle of the park. Their high intensity game, combined with the energy and guile of our forwards brought an avalanche of chances and Wigan could have been blown away by the 25th minute.
Rooney hit the inside of the post; Berbatov should have won a penalty when Bramble clipped him from behind; Berbatov was clear on goal but lifted the ball wide of the target; Scharner cleared a Vidic effort off the line - and these were only the biggest chances before the opener.
Which was scored by the player who is in world class form and whose football is a joy to watch at the moment. Wayne Rooney is clearly relishing the increased responsibility and it must be noted that making him the penalty taker did wonders for his confidence: penalties can help him get over barren spells without developing the immense frustration that so often characterised his football. Against Wigan he was at the peak of his powers, tormenting defenders mercilessly and there was something inevitable that he got on the end of Rafael's fine cross and that he could produce a deft finish with which Kirkland had no chance at all.
And it was game over. Wigan, it must be acknowledged, had no fight in them, they simply gave up as they never seemed to believe they could get a result at Old Trafford. United did not slow down for a minute, the battering continued without a trace of remorse and soon enough our efforts were rewarded: the somewhat uncertain Berbatov produced a fine pass for Valencia, who terrorised Figueroa all night, and his perfect cutback found the excellent Carrick who elegantly sidefooted the ball into the net.
Wigan still could not muster a real chance as the United onslaught did not stop but it was only in the stoppage time of the first half that the third goal we so richly deserved came: Rafael found some space among the hesitant Latics defenders and he fired home a fine left-footed shot from the edge of the area then ran off to celebrate with his delighted brother who was sitting on the bench.
There was a danger that the second half could turn into a boring procession as the game was already over but fortunately, United seemed to realise that goal difference could be important and set out to give it a real boost. After some early pressure, Valencia's low cross somehow found Berbatov - the defenders fell in every direction... - who slotted the ball home with the outside of his right foot. Lovely finish and a deserved goal for the Bulgarian who was clearly eager to help the team.
Even then it did not become some boring, scrappy affair: Wigan had two good chances to grab a consolation goal that they barely deserved while United kept on playing some excellent passing football, not allowing the game to degenerate into some scrappy kickabout. And though Fergie planned ahead and gave Berbatov, Evra and Vidic a rest, he seemingly did not even consider taking Rooney off as he was evidently enjoying himself on the pitch. And it was worth leaving him on as the he set up the game's best goal: his defence-splitting pass found Antonio Valencia who lifted it over Pollitt (who replaced Kirkland at the interval) using the outside of his right foot to complete as good a night's work as any this season.
This was United at their best and though it does not make us a better team than we were three days ago, it was a hell of a display, a joy to watch. A fitting farewell to 2009 which, as I said, was essentially a good year for Manchester United fans and players alike.