Mischa Wilmers’ Sunday Column – United put pressure on Chelsea with resounding win at Portsmouth

With Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea all competing today, yesterday’s spotlight at the top of the table was on Manchester United. The Champions faced bottom side Portsmouth – a fact which was reflected by the scoreline.

Anything other than a win for the Red Devils against Portsmouth would have spelled catastrophe for Sir Alex Ferguson’s title ambitions. Fortunately for both the manager and fans the Reds won 4-1 and put their Premier League title challenge firmly back on course, albeit with a performance which was once again slightly shaky in parts. Nevertheless, the Christmas period is traditionally a strong one for United and they will now enter December in a good position. The star of the day was Wayne Rooney who grabbed a hat-trick and the striker will have been happy to get back on the score sheet following his lack of fortune in front of goal recently. The United striker is now second only to Jermaine Defoe in the top scorers list and with 10 goals has scored as many as Fernando Torres. Portsmouth’s new manager Avram Grant will be disappointed but not surprised by the result. He faces an enormous task in lifting the bottom placed side out of the relegation zone.

Elsewhere the most exciting game of the day was West Ham’s 5-3 victory over Burnley – only their third win of the season. The win pushed the Hammers out of the bottom three whilst Burnley lie in a comfortable 11th place.

In the Sunday papers Manchester United’s resounding victory over Portsmouth dominates the sports headlines. The Sunday Times runs the headline, “Rooney hat-trick gives Avram Grant plenty to chew on” whilst in The Telegraph Duncan White argues that, “Wayne Rooney had his quietest game of the season for Manchester United and still managed to score a hat-trick.” White quotes manager Avram Grant as saying, “In my opinion we played better than them. We created a lot of chances and conceded soft goals…It was very strange.” Indeed the scoreline was not a true representation of the match itself but United have forged a habit of winning games unconvincingly this season. There is some disagreement in the papers as to whether or not Portsmouth performed well despite the defeat. In The Observer Amy Lawrence writes: “Portsmouth’s next league match is Burnley’s visit to the south coast, a game in which a repeat performance would be disastrous”, whilst in The Sunday Times Andrew Longmore shows more optimism for Grant’s side: “Portsmouth showed enough industry and skill to lend some weight to Grant’s belief that they can get themselves out of relegation trouble.”

Once again this was a game from which United came out victorious in spite of an unconvincing display. Defensively they gave away several chances to Portsmouth which might have been punished by stronger teams. Nevertheless, Fergie will be encouraged by his side’s ability to win matches even when playing below par, a trait they have proven against smaller clubs throughout the season. The United manager and fans will now be praying for Arsenal to get a result against Chelsea today – a match which could shape how the race for the title pans out.

In other news several of the papers are reporting that Everton boss David Moyes is unsatisfied with his job and upset about the growing chasm forming between his side and Merseyside rivals Liverpool ahead of their derby clash today. There have been rumours recently that Moyes may be about to end his seven year spell as manager of Everton but Moyes has denied there is any truth to this. In The Observer the headline reads: “Moyes bemoans the great Mersey divide.” And Paul Wilson reports that “as the team prepare for this afternoon’s Merseyside derby, Moyes has admitted he feels further than ever from competing with Liverpool on the pitch.” In The Mail on Sunday Joe Bernstein paints a bleak picture of Everton’s future: “Everton have no money, a crippling injury list, no immediate prospect of a new stadium and no sugar daddy waiting in the wings to take over from Bill Kenwright.” Bernstein adds that, “Moyes is clearly a manager who feels he may have reached a dead end after leading Everton to three top-six finishes in recent seasons.”

Whether or not Moyes is considering leaving Everton is up for the debate, but with their plans for a new stadium rejected midweek, even Rafael Benitez would not want to swap places with the Scot. In The Telegraph Chris Brereton sums up Moyes’s position well: “On Friday Moyes was swift to dismiss the rumours rapidly growing on Merseyside that he is preparing to end his seven-and-a-half-year tenure at Goodison Park, but his honest assessment of how Everton have faltered this season may suggest otherwise.”

The Telegraph reports that Barcelona’s Lionel Messi is the favourite to win the 2009 Ballon d’Or. A shortlist of 10 candidates has been drawn up with Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard representing England. Last year’s winner Cristiano Ronaldo is also in the running but it seems likely that after helping his team to win the Champions League and La Liga last season, Messi will beat his rivals to win the award for the first time.

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