When I left for Old Trafford this afternoon, Chelsea were a goal up through Drogba, the player who has claimed he is the best player in the Premiership this year. It was a given that Chelsea were going to pick up three points at home to Reading, but after seeing Chelsea pick up points in their past two games in the dying moments, it was frustrating to see the replay of their goal today, with Drogba holding on to the keeper whilst heading the ball in to the net.
As I was walking up the steps inside the ground, I heard a loud cheer. There was still twenty minutes until kick off, so I was a little confused. I reached the top of the stairs to be greeted by a massive crowd of reds who were all beaming, watching the big screen which was showing the Chelsea Reading game, and it was 2-2. As the final whistle blew we poured in to the stands, singing the latest favourite song at Old Trafford, “Mourinho are you listenin? You better keep our trophy glistenin! We’ll be back in May, to take it away. Walking in a Fergie wonderland.”
Upon hearing the team, whilst confident with our squad, I still felt a little unnerved. Playing O’Shea I can handle, playing Fletcher is fine, but playing both of them in our midfield at the same time should be strictly forbidden. Did the Arsenal game teach Ferguson nothing?
However, United spent the first forty five minutes in control, despite playing without Carrick, Giggs, Ronaldo, Saha, Ferdinand and Neville. Chances were created, and even though they weren’t going in, there was a sure feeling that one would do soon enough. We just needed to keep on with what we were doing, and sooner or later, a goal would come.
Before the whistle for the second half was blown, Ronaldo stood on the touchline, ready to replace Fletcher. The songs from the crowd were deafening, calling for the player who has shone for United this season. With less than two minutes played, Ronaldo answered the fans with a goal, headed in from a Paul Scholes corner. His first touch of the ball.
In the fifth minute after kick off, Ronaldo doubled his goal tally after Park was brought down in the box. The Korean who has recently returned from injury benefited us in the way he usually does, with his never say die attitude. He doesn’t give up on any ball, and this occasion was no different. He won a ball in the area he had no right to, and was no brought down by Teale. Penalty.
Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Louis Saha as our penalty taker. Not because he missed the one against Celtic, but he always looks less than convincing when he takes them. Ronaldo on the other hand always seems to put beautiful penalties away for Portugal, and I’d much rather see him take over the duties for us. He didn’t do the best job of winning us over though, taking a pretty average penalty, which was blocked. Thankfully, he slotted in the rebound, scoring two goals in the six minutes he’d been on the field.
From this point on, United brimmed with confidence, and looked more like the team who have dominated the league so far this season. Whilst Wigan didn’t completely roll over, they never posed any real threat to us.
Just before the hour mark, Ole netted United’s third, and his seventh of the season (two more than £30 million man Shevchenko has scored for Chelsea). Wayne Rooney worked hard to set up Solskjaer, who calmly placed his shot in the corner. The game was won, but not over. Rooney saw a shot come back from the underside of the woodwork, and fairly, but rather bizarrely, Wigan were awarded a penalty during the one minute of injury time at the end of the game.
There are several issues I think this match addresses. Firstly, with this performance further evidence to the cause, that Drogba is far too premature in hailing himself player of the season. Ronaldo has been superb this season, and is now the second highest scorer in the league, with ten goals in eighteen games. Of course, it is Drogba who tops the leaderboard, with twelve goals in twenty games. So two more goals for the striker, versus our winger, who has more assists than Drogba this season. Now, we all love to cheer on Ronaldo and see him do well, because he is a United player, and because the rest of the country hates him so much. It gives me great pleasure to hear Ronaldo booed constantly, and then see him completely do a defender. However, it is undeniable to even the people who hate Ronaldo that he’s having a great season. Now, Chelsea need Drogba more than we need Ronaldo, as we have several players scoring and creating our goals, and Chelsea don’t, but in my mind, as Ronaldo showed today, he is playing better football than anyone else in the league, and is a joy to watch.
Another issue is that of our squad. I raised the question on here as to whether our squad was good enough a few weeks ago. We look at the celebrity players Chelsea have on their bench, then look at the likes of Richardson and O’Shea on ours, and assume therefore we have big problems. “Chelsea have greater strength in depth” is something we hear a lot from football pundits. How true is this? Chelsea were doing fine until John Terry got injured, so what does their great strength in depth have to offer? Boulahrouz? Now, I am likely to be highly critical of anything associated with Chelsea, so don’t just take my word for it. Watch him get done by Robbie Keane, Ronaldinho, Deco, and give away a penalty against Everton. This is all in just eleven matches in a Chelsea shirt. (And let’s not forget his attack on our Ronaldo in the World Cup!) He just looks completely out of his depth, and whilst it is clear any team would struggle to replace someone like Terry, you’d expect Chelsea with all their money, and all their expertise in Mourinho, would have better cover than this clown. Who agrees Chelsea would love to have a player of Wes Brown’s quality to fill in for their skipper, like he did for us today. If Chelsea have so much strength in depth, why is it that they’ve conceded six goals in their past three games with no John Terry? And you must take in to consideration they’d only conceded nine goals in the previous seventeen games before this! Against the team we brushed aside today, Chelsea needed a goal three minutes in to injury time to pick up the three points. In the game before they needed goals eight and three minutes from time to get their three points. Is this a team that has strength in depth? A team that is picking up points by the skin of their teeth?
And so if United have so little strength in depth, how is it we easily won a game today with six of our first eleven players not on the field for the first half, and without five for the second half? Mikael Silvestre instead of Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown instead of captain Gary Neville, Park Ji Sung instead of Giggs, Darren Fletcher instead of Cristiano Ronaldo, and finally John O’Shea instead of Michael Carrick. At the start of the day, Chelsea’s opponents were only two points ahead of ours, yet our half strength team managed a win, whilst Chelsea, with options of Ashley Cole and Wright Phillips on the bench, got pegged back twice to a draw.
I feel the need to say this at the conclusion of every article, so that if/when things fall to pieces, people can’t harp “I told you so” at me. I have belief and I have hope, but there’s no way I’m foolish enough to think we’ve got this wrapped up, just as I wouldn’t think Chelsea had it wrapped it if they were four points clear (although I have a feeling the press might). But bit by bit, United are proving everyone wrong, even some of our own fans. Whatever happens in May, we’ve gone a long way to show everyone, because we’re competing with Roman this season, which is a damn site more than any other team has done. Manchester United will start 2007 top of the league. Now, hands up, who believed we’d be in this situation back in the summer? 😀