Club Focus – Manchester United – Enter the Champions

Sir Alex Ferguson and his Manchester United team know too well there is only one way to recover from a setback on the pitch and the questions being asked off it. They not only won, but won big. However, they still have obvious holes that need plugging in the team. There are many positives to be drawn from the result at Wigan. Wayne Rooney reaching the 100 goal mark for United, Michael Owen get off the mark and the performance of Dimitar Berabatov was also a plus points. Much of what was seen prior to Rooney’s first goal was less encouraging though. United may indeed have carved out some good chances in the first half but Wigan matched them easily. A midfield containing the likes of Jason Koumas, Charles N’Zogbia and Jordi Gomes often bossed Darren Fletcher and Paul Scholes. The home side were unlucky not to register on the score sheet.

United still have problems with injuries at the back following the confirmation this week that Rio Ferdinand will be out for a month and not two weeks as was first thought. This will rule him out of Saturday’s game against Arsenal. There was some joy on the injury front at Wigan however, with United welcoming back both Nemanja Vidic and Gary Neville from injury, but it was an indiscretion from Vidic which may prove costly. He appeared to catch Hugo Rodallega with a stray arm to the face during the second half when referee Howard Webb was unsighted. Rodallega after lying on the ground expecting retribution from Webb soon jumped to his feet when this wasn’t forthcoming to seek it himself. The Colombian in fact caught Webb with a trailing arm of his own but the referee was sensible enough to use the intelligence and strength gained from his day job as a police officer to defuse the situation. If the FA decide to view the video evidence it would suggest that the Serbian will be charged with violent conduct which could result in a three match ban leaving United desperately short of defensive options with some tough games on the horizon. Jonny Evans will no doubt be patched up again for the visit of Arsenal but it is clear he is not fully fit as he was again forced off late on with ankle trouble.

There were many positives to take from the game and none more so than the performance of Berbatov. In the pre-match press conference Ferguson felt the need to back his record signing by stating the following:

“He is a very good player and I am particularly happy with him. Dimitar would like to score a goal. Strikers always feel as if scoring a goal is the most important thing”.

The most important thing to silence the critics was the fact that he got his goal after a lovely flick over Chris Kirkland and a deft finish into the net but it was the manner at which he played the game which so pleased the United travelling support. He set Paul Scholes up early on in the first half with a deft back flick straight into the midfielder’s path and his touch was sublime all day long. The combination play between himself, Rooney and later Owen was first class and he seemed to bring to the game what was missing against Burnley in mid week. A little bit of invention and nous in and around the opposition penalty area to unlock the door. His work rate was second to none, something which his languid style often attracts criticism for, and he was seen winning the ball in the Wigan half and setting up the counter attacks. It was a hugely impressive performance by the Bulgarian.

With some very tough fixtures coming up against Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City the Wigan match was essential for the forward line to fire and for the defence to keep a clean sheet, but if United are to hit the 90 point mark and achieve an unprecedented fourth Premier League title in a row the midfield will need to become much more compact, the defence to be consistent in terms of personnel and the forwards to use this result as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. No one in and around Old Trafford will be getting too carried away after an emphatic win against a side who have never taken a point off United, but it was a clear step in the right direction following a difficult week.

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

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