Manchester United’s trip to Stoke on Saturday had all the makings of an extremely tough afternoon with the Potters boasting a home league record last season which the Champions themselves would be very proud of. Chelsea has already come away from the Britannia this season with three points meaning that it was imperative for United to do the same. Sir Alex kept faith with Ben Foster and the young keeper repaid him by keeping a clean sheet and commanding his area excellently against a team who rely so heavily on corners and throw-ins into the opposition penalty area. Stoke certainly missed the aerial presence of James Beattie and Ricardo Fuller, but it was still an accomplished performance from United’s back five.
At the other end of the pitch United had large amounts of the play but found it very difficult to break down a team with so many players behind the ball. This all changed however with a substitution in the 55th minute. Ferguson elected to withdraw Nani, replacing him with 35-year-old Ryan Giggs – whose impact was immediate. Darren Fletcher slid the ball agonisingly in front of Robert Huth tempting him into the challenge, but the ball was too precise freeing Giggs on the left hand side. The Welshman slid a first-time cross across the six-yard box to give Dimitar Berbatov the easiest of tap-ins. The move was so simple yet so effective. Giggs was again involved in United’s second with his free-kick being headed in by John O’Shea to send the Red Devils top of the table for the first time this season.
Giggs has received many plaudits following the final whistle and none more so than from Berbatov who has Giggs to thank for his second goal of the season. The Bulgarian had the following to say: “The game changed when Ryan came on. You can see because of the number of years he has been able to play for Manchester United how much he helps us being on the pitch. He makes the right decisions. That is what got us the three points.”
The penultimate sentence is key. His cross for the first goal was so simple but it was the right decision at the right time, executed perfectly. This is one of the reasons he has been so successful at United and has such longevity – despite having so much individual ability he knows when to play the simple pass and when to go alone. Unfortunately this is not always something which can be taught and it is only really players with an acute footballing brain who have this ability.
The man who Giggs replaced on the pitch at Stoke, Nani, does not seem to have it. The Portuguese is a player who frustrates both the United supporters and players alike as he seems to have so much talent but lacks the correct application. So often in matches he will get himself into good positions but waste the final ball or shot – often choosing the wrong option. A perfect example of this was during the first half in Saturday’s game – when sent clear down the right hand side Nani could have easily slid the ball to Berbatov who was alone in the penalty area, but he elected to cut inside on his left foot and blaze over the bar. His head was down and was either unaware of the Bulgarian or chose to ignore him. This was a poor decision which typified his entire performance on Saturday. It may be true that he is trying too hard to fill the boots left by Ronaldo but many United fans are losing patience with him in what is his third season without any real sparkling performances. Giggs, on the other hand, has had five assists in the last two Premier League games with his form being one of the main reasons United are sitting pretty at the top of the league.
Giggs has always enjoyed Champions League evenings at Old Trafford and this Wednesday will be no different with United hosting German champions Wolfsburg. Due to the fact of this being their first Champions League campaign, the German club were placed as fourth seeds in the group despite being Champions of one of the top leagues in Europe. This has meant for a very tough draw for United but one which they should overcome. Wednesday will be an intriguing encounter as most of the Wolfsburg side will be relative unknowns to those familiar with the Premier League. It has been a tough start to the defence of their Bundesliga title but some good results have come recently coupled with the 3-1 triumph over CSKA Moscow in their opening Champions League group game. United will be ready for the challenge and every single Red Devils supporter will be hoping that Giggs has some part to play in the proceedings.
Manchester United Club Focus
Welcome to Manchester, Michael – July 29
Goals from midfield the order of the day – August 5
Respect the consistency – August 12
Injury plague piles pressure on forwards – August 18
Usual slow starters living up to their reputation but is there cause for concern? – August 22
Enter the Champions – August 25
Anderson and Vidic pledge their allegiance – August 28
Win fails to hide Rooney’s need for a wingman – September 1
Ferguson sticking to his guns – September 4
Fingers pointed towards Old Trafford – September 8
Legal issues and a tough trip to north London – September 11
The two sides of Paul Scholes – September 15
A win in Turkey and a derby day to come – September 18
Fletcher revels in the “best derby of all time” – September 22
Tough trip to Stoke after lacklustre cup performance – September 25
Giggs leads by example – September 29