Ahead of kick-off against Bolton I asked the footballing gods for a win and a boost to our goal difference, if possible. Given that we have so often seen our prayers have been heard, I didn’t think it was too much to ask for.
However, when Chelsea beat Aston Villa 7-1 I thought someone was taking the piss. No, our goal difference could do with a kick up the arse. Did I not make that clear enough?
There were times on Saturday where it just didn’t seem likely. Let’s just grab the three points and run. I was only being spoilt when I was asking for a hand with the goal difference anyway.
Regardless of how much impact Wayne Rooney has on our team physically, in terms of the space he creates and goals he scores, it is the psychological absence that I sometimes worry about. With United billed as a one team again this season (which seems bizarre to me, considering we sold our “one man” in the summer, didn’t we?) I do wonder what pressure there is on our other players to perform when Rooney isn’t about. That pressure surely fell on Dimitar Berbatov’s shoulders and there were questions as to whether he could handle that.
He had a nice effort early on after Darren Fletcher put the ball across for the Bulgarian to strike with his first touch. Jaaskelainen conceded the corner. The ball fell to Berbatov just inside the box and he cleverly flicked it over his shoulder straight to Fletcher, who saw Jonny Evans lurking in a dangerous position. Unfortunately, his positioning was the only dangerous thing about him, as he blasted the ball over the bar.
Bolton, seemingly sensing their let off, then tried to make a go of the game. Evans was disappointing in his positioning, playing Elmander onside, whilst still not being anywhere near close enough to put a tackle in. Van der Sar saved at his near post but it could have been worse.
So again, we responded, this time with Patrice Evra leaping over tackles to eventually get the ball to Berbatov, who found Ryan Giggs on the edge of the area. The words “rolling back the years” seem to be mentioned every time we see Giggs play and the same can be said of Saturday. A nice bit of footwork gave him a yard of space but his shot was just over.
We came forward again, this time Nani with a nice flick over his shoulder to find Giggs on the left, who put in a brilliant ball. Now, Giggsy has played in just 19 league games this season due to injury, has started in just 14, yet has 10 assists to his name, with only three players providing more goals than him this season (and all of them playing considerable more games). It really should come as no surprise that his great cross in to the box resulted in a goal, with Samuel putting the ball in to the back of his own net. With Fletch breaking down his neck, he maybe felt like he didn’t have any other option than to put the ball back across his own goal. Or maybe the temptation of knowing Ryan Giggs set you up for a goal was too much for him. Who knows. Ohhh wanky, wanky.
Bolton should have levelled the score straight away, with Muamba forcing the best save I’ve seen Edwin make in ages. The ball was destined for the top corner but somehow our Dutchman got his fingertips to it and pushed the ball away from our goal. This was the start of an edgy few minutes before the half time we were all desperate to arrive. Muamba had another go from the edge of the box and a deflection took it wide of the post. Van der Sar then went running after the ball and started complaining, time wasting I can only assume, only for Bolton to take the corner quickly whilst our keeper was still out of his nets. At this point, you really couldn’t have predicted the second half that followed.
Straight after the restart Berbatov had us all with our heads in our hands. Being a Berbafan, I always like to see him do well, but when he slipped in the box just before he was about to pull the trigger, I could hear the same ol’ criticism for him in my head. He had done well to hold off a challenge from Muamba, played a neat one two with Fletch, before stumbling in the box. It was only when you saw the replay that you realise Berbatov’s boot and had been pulled off by Muamba before the one two!
We had to wait another twenty minutes before the game was wrapped up, with Giggsy playing a perfect ball through to Fletcher. The Scot struck the ball well from outside the box with Berbatov picked up the pieces, slotting the ball underneath Jaaskelainen.
Less than ten minutes later it was 3-0, with some great work by Nani down the left, who put it on a plate for Berbatov. The Bulgarian lazily guided the ball in to the back of the net through the defender’s legs with his outstep and earned himself a spot amongst the top ten scorers this season. It’s a feat made more impressive by the fact so many of the players ahead of him take penalties for their clubs. Not including pens, Berb has scored more than Louis Saha and Frank Lampard, and as many as Cesc Fabregas, meaning in terms of outfield goals alone, only seven players have scored more than him this season. Good ol’ Berbaflop.
With Scholes already taken off for Carrick, presumably to rest up ahead of tomorrow, Fletch then made way for Darron Gibson, which proved to be a good decision.
Berbatov brought the ball in to their half, patiently waiting for Nani to be in the perfect position, before feeding the ball through defenders to reach him. Nani again beat his man with his skilful feet, before finding Gibson in the box. A neat finish from our substitute to help balance up our goal difference.
It will be interesting to see which of the players who impressed on Saturday will get a game tonight against Bayern. The manager has to have one eye on Saturday, particularly given Chelsea will be well rested this week after being knocked out of Europe. So will he go for Giggsy again tonight, resting Park, to reverse them at the weekend? Will Carrick start ahead of Scholes? We can presume we will see a 4-5-1 with the recovered Rooney leading the line, although will the manager want to reward Berbatov for his contribution at the weekend? Ferguson recently said that Rooney guesses the team every weekend and isn’t far wrong, which I say makes the lad a bloody genius, because I struggle to get anywhere near Fergie’s mindset!
Arjen Robben is a doubt for this evening after coming off with a calf injury at the weekend, whilst Franck Ribery looks set to start, although may not be 100% fit. Gary Neville handled Ronaldinho fine at Old Trafford, so will likely be trusted with a tough task this evening.
Nani will likely have his work cut out against Phillip Lahm whilst Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, who is set to return to the team after missing out on Saturday, will have to contend with Mario Gomez.
In the away leg, you’d have to be happy with a score draw, and even a defeat by one goal, as long as we score, would be pleasing enough.
All eyes are going to be on Rooney, with their players and coach talking about him non-stop over the past week, meaning there might be the chance for one of our other players to steal the show.
Come on reds.