MANCHESTER UNITED 3
Berbatov 42, 59, 84
Gerrard (pen) 64, 70
There are only two points of focus to come from Sunday lunchtime’s game between Manchester United and Liverpool – Dimitar Berbatov and United’s defence.
A polite affair that left both keepers relatively untroubled until the hour mark came to life with Berbatov’s overhead effort. Within 10 minutes, United had thrown another two-goal lead away, but for the Bulgarian to rescue the three points and complete his first hat-trick for the club.
Tactically Liverpool posed few problems, as they failed to fully take advantage of their strengths. The extra man in midfield in the first-half saw them find space in triangle movements through the United midfield, but moves regularly broke down as they reached the penalty box.
However, the simple switch to a 4-4-2 caused a United back-line previously undone by basic errors at Fulham and clever forward play at Everton more problems than it should have. David Ngog stuck on the centre-backs, stretching them to create space for Fernando Torres to run into from a slightly deeper position. United lost their discipline and shape, the midfield failed to support the defence and Liverpool cut their way through for their only two opportunities of the game, drawing a penalty and a free-kick and respectively converting both.
This is the third game from five in the league so far to have shown a less-than-rigid back-line. Talented and determined they may be, competent in possession too, but when pushed under pressure, they have folded with surprising ease and regularity. Rio Ferdinand’s return may solve organisational aspects, but he won’t play every game of the season and for United to push for the title, Ferguson will have his work cut out figuring firstly where the main issues for this current selection lie.
Was it not for the Red Devils’ No 9, the headlines would have been dominated by this latest collapse. Berbatov has started the season in much the same vein Wayne Rooney started last. That is not so much in the quality of play, which for the Bulgarian has never been an issue, but he has introduced an urgency to it, looking more likely – and more eager – to do something on the ball every time he gets it. His goals so far this season have not come as that of a passenger benefiting from teammates, but through his energy put into moves.
It will be interesting to see where he takes this early-season momentum. Rooney went on to a memorable 2009/10 off the back of a similar strong start last year, but in Berbatov, both positively and negatively, he represents the unknown.
Manchester United have work to do if they are to push for that 19th title, but with Berbatov deputising in the goal-scoring department, should Rooney and United’s real defence return to form, they stand a better chance of catching Chelsea than they are given credit for.
1 van der Sar
22 O’Shea – 23 J. Evans – 15 Vidic – 3 Evra
17 Nani – 24 Fletcher – 18 Scholes – 11 Giggs
9 Berbatov – 14 Hernandez
82 – 27 Macheda on for 11 Giggs
88 – 28 Gibson on for 17 Nani
8 Anderson on for 9 Berbatov