With a 1-0 over Birmingham and a 1-0 defeat to Burnley our fate was clear. We certainly were not going to win the Premiership for the fourth year running. It’s not as if we haven’t had worse starts to the season than this and gone on to win the title regardless, but this year was different. This year we have sold Cristiano Ronaldo.
Whatever we do or don’t achieve this season, it will all revolve around Ronaldo, sadly. “United win the FA Cup. Ronaldo who?” or “United knocked out of the League Cup. Would this have happened if Ronaldo was still there?” When you sell the best player in the world then it is of course going to draw plenty of attention, so we just have to get on with it. After Burnley, we were apparently feeling the effects of missing Ronaldo. To a certain degree, this is true. Ronnie was a master at finishing off the bottom half of the table teams when our other players couldn’t find a way through.
Still, you would think that we never lost to inferior opposition when Ronaldo was about. It’s odd this rose-tinted view this country now has of Ronaldo, the “winker”, now that he’s gone. I swear if we lose again we’ll be told that if Ronaldo was about we’d have been victorious and the winger would have been turning water in to wine after the match for the fans to celebrate in style.
It was so important that we bounced back when we played Wigan to take the pressure off our players. With 45 minutes played and plenty of good chances created, you had to wonder whether it was going to be another one of ‘those’ days.
Rooney played a good ball to Berbatov who, with a clever flick, passed it on to Nani, who cut inside and put it on a plate for Darren Fletcher inside the box. Fletcher struck with his left foot though, meaning he couldn’t get enough power or lift behind it, meaning Titus Bramble, who seemingly is a good defender these days, helped Kirkland to keep it out.
Moments later, Berbabtov rolled the ball back to Paul Scholes just outside the box, but he didn’t keep his composure and fired high and wide of the mark. It becomes a worry when he can’t finish chances that were simply made for him. It had ‘Scholesy’ written all over it and his reaction to missing summed up just how disappointing his effort was.
Nani, who played well with Evra down the left flank, put in a good ball to Berbatov but after outjumping his opponent could only head down at the keeper. Valencia had a decent game down the other wing, although fairly predictable with his sprints and crosses, and created a couple of chances for Rooney which again only found Kirkland.
Ben Foster was called in to action midway through the first half to save a long-range Jason Koumas effort. The jitters of games gone by seemed well and truly behind him on Saturday, with the flaps a thing of the past and a more commanding display there for all to see. Could this be thanks to the sturdy presence of Nemanja Vidic? Not long after the Koumas save, Vidic stood up to N’Zogbia just inside the area as Wigan started to look dangerous.
All in all, it was a frustrating first half, although we certainly showed more signs of scoring than we had against Burnley. We had to wait until ten minutes in to the second half before our nerves could be eased though.
Rooney played the ball out wide to Valencia, who was being booed by the fans of his former club. The Ecuadorian had been guilty of faking an injury (something the manager was only complaining about last week!) in the first half and the home fans were just generally not too pleased to see him wearing our shirt. He played an inch-perfect ball to Rooney though, which he leapt up to meet and then headed past Kirkland. Wayne Rooney was now in Manchester United’s 100 club.
Wigan would have equalised within moments if not for the athleticism of Foster which meant he was able to push away Rodallega’s goal-bound header. He rose quickly and released the ball which set the wheels in motion for our second. Berbatov passed the ball to Rooney just outside the area, who nudged it on to Scholes, all while our Bulgarian was making his move in to the box which enabled him to be on the end of Scholesy’s little chip in to the area. With his first touch he lifted it over the keeper, which his second he found the back of the net between the two Wigan defenders. Brilliant.
Less than ten minutes after opening the scoring, Rooney played a perfect cross-field ball from our half of the pitch to an attacking Valencia. By the time he got to the box Berbatov was ready to set him up. Clearly not afraid to use his shooting boots, Rooney had a go and a deflection took it past the keeper. Three goals in three games for our new central striker.
With twenty minutes to play, Michael Owen was brought on for Rooney, Darron Gibson came on for Scholes, whilst O’Shea replaced a limping Jonny Evans. Gibson looked bright and got a couple of chances away from range. I expect we will be seeing plenty of him this season with the manager keen to chop and change the midfield as much as possible it seems.
Time was running out for United to get their usual 4-0 scoreline over Wigan, something I hoped for in the pre-match discussion, but our boys did no disappoint. Berbatov found Nani with the outside of his boot, who played in a lovely ball for Owen. With easier chances going begging against Birmingham and Burnley, I would have been happy with Owen forcing a save from the keeper at this angle. Owen got his left boot around the ball though and fired across the face of the goal, finding the post then the back of the net. It was a great finish and his celebration matched, running to our away support with a beaming grin and arms outstretched.
As injury time approached, Berbatov ran towards the box with the ball but was dragged back and eventually to the ground. A freekick from 30 yards out seemed to have Gibson’s name on it but Nani, who does not want to be compared to Ronaldo, stepped up. He got just enough height on it to lift the ball over the wall but then just the right pace to allow it to come back down to earth and in to the back of the net. He deserved a goal for his impressive performance and answered the final Ronaldo related question over who would now be taking our free-kicks.
Anything less than en emphatic victory woudn’t have meant we needed Ronaldo to be successful and equally, just because we beat Wigan 5-0 it doesn’t mean the title is in the bag. I think this result will be great for the confidence of our players and allow us to stay composed at 0-0, knowing the goals will come, but our first real test will come against Arsenal at the weekend. Thankfully, they are flying high at the moment so will come to Old Trafford thinking they’re Billy Big Balls and will therefore be easier to expose. They have a score or two to settle though, after we embarrassed them in the European Cup and won the league after playing them last season (“we won the league at Old Trafford, we won the league in Manchester!”). Vidic, Evans and Foster were all impressive defensively on Saturday and our strikers can go in to the next game with all the belief they need.
Everton were awfully kind to lose to Burnley to show every one our defeat there wasn’t as embarrassing as it felt. Still, memories of that game should be let go now as we look to get ourselves back on top. Let’s hope this is the start of something good and that we can carry this kind of performance on to the Arsenal, with Carrick likely replacing Scholes and Wes Brown hopefully coming in for Gary Neville.