Champions Are Back Where They Belong
Merry Christmas folks! It's been a wonderful, pleasant Boxing Day, starting with Chelsea's extraordinary 4-4 draw against Villa, ending with Arsenal's lifeless 0-0 draw at Pompey.
However, what happened between these games is by far the most interesting for us: Manchester United, the champions of England, underlined their credentials once again with an easy win over a struggling, poor Sunderland side.
With Anderson and Hargreaves rested, at first glance United's engine room looked far less substantial than before. However, Carrick and Fletcher rose to the admittably not too difficult task and outplayed their Sunderland counterparts while Nani and O'Shea did the job superbly in the absence of Giggs and Evra on the left.
The opening exchanges were a bit scrappy but it was always United who threatened to score, the first real chance of the game fell to Louis Saha who scuffed his shot wide after a great run and a precise pass from O'Shea. The goal arrived soon afterwards as Brown raced out defense then played a wonderfully measured through ball to Rooney's path who slid it past the advancing Gordon with impressive composure.
No joking here: Sunderland looked defeated from that very minute. United stroked the ball around nonchalantly, missing a few chances and being generally at ease with the world. Then they shook it off, switched into second gear and Ronaldo released Rooney on the left, the striker cut back and sent a great ball towards Saha whose first-time volley from six yards landed in the back of the net.
And that was game over really, especially that despite Kenwyne Jones's admirable efforts, this Sunderland team did not possess neither bite nor quality to trouble us. Rio and Vidic had a largely easy afternoon, Fletcher tied up the loose ends and Carrick could busy himself in attack. Rooney often turned provider as usual but none of the slick counterattacks brought another goal in the first half: it came courtesy of a brilliant Ronaldo free-kick that put the icing on the cake after an imperious first-half display.
The second half, predictably, was quite boring. United were content to sit back and keep the ball as Sunderland's players failed to trouble them. Retrieving and retaining possession is a weakness of Sunderland and you have to be concerned if you happen to like Keano as much as I do.
However, thoughts of sympathy came only after the game as United, of course, are more important. It's true, though, that I could have been swallowed by my concerns as the game never threatened to explode. Rooney missed the biggest chance by firing over the bar after a great pass by Brown but it wasn't the highlight of the game.
Ji-sung Park has not played since March but he was sent on today amid heartfelt chants of 'Park, Park, wherever you may be...'. It was touching while the Korean's performance was encouraging: he displayed a hunger for the ball and a keen eye for it: one measured pass to Nani through the defense was particularly outstanding yet the otherwise impressive Portuguese lashed it high and wide from a good position.
Another goal came at the end though after Nani made the most of a very slight contact in the box and promptly fell over. Rennie pointed to the spot, Saha tucked it away and we were left with the task of cheering on Portsmouth. We did it rather well it seems as they comfortably held Arsenal to a goalless draw and handed us, wrapped nicely in golden paper, a wonderful Christmas present: the summit of the Premier League. That's where we belong.