Welbeck 61, Anderson 76, Rooney 87
Manchester United sent out an ominous message to the pretenders to their Premier League crown by overcoming Tottenham Hotspur with a vibrant, youthful side that displayed promise for both the present and the future in this 3-0 victory.
With Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic both missing with injuries sustained against West Bromwich Albion last weekend, it was intriguing to see just how Harry Redknapp would line his men up against United’s inexperienced defence. However, while Spurs did indeed threaten – notably on the counter – youngsters Phil Jones and Chris Smalling and young veteran Jonny Evans coped admirably. David de Gea looked calmer despite a couple of nervy fumbles, while Jones in particular looked assured at the back. Indeed, Ferdinand may find his starting position under genuine threat when he returns.
While Spurs more than held their own in a dogged first-half, Redknapp’s men faded badly after the hour mark as United’s crisp interplay and hunger to attack simply wore them down. It goes without saying that Luka Modric’s absence made a big difference to Spurs’ ability to create meaningful chances in front of goal, and for all their promising breaks forward, the likes of Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and Niko Kranjcar proved that without the diminutive Croatian pulling the strings, the London side are likely to struggle against opponents of a higher calibre.
Ashley Young and Luis Nani switched wings throughout and teased Spurs’ full-backs, while Tom Cleverley continued his fine form with a display that belied his years, including a wonderful cross for Danny Welbeck’s towering finish. United fans may further question United’s pursuit of Inter’s Wesley Sneijder if the composed youngster can keep up these displays.
Although Welbeck initially struggled in the first-half, he left the field to rapturous applause after his finish and a delightful back-heeled assist for Anderson effectively ended the tie as a contest. It said a lot that the young Mancunian started while Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez watched on from the bench, yet the forward is repaying Sir Alex Ferguson’s faith in his talents.
Anderson also showed that this may finally be the season in which he stakes a regular place in the starting XI, with an energetic second-half display capped off with a neat finish after intricate build-up play with Welbeck. Wayne Rooney orchestrated proceedings for United, and was a hive of activity – the England striker looked in peak condition and capped off a fine night with a trademark header, and will be exceptionally hard to stop on this form.
In contrast, Rafael van der Vaart was guilty of wastefulness, and despite the frustration at Lennon failing to pick him out for a golden opportunity on 50 minutes, his self-indulgent shooting from distance and lazy corner kicks left his manager exasperated.
While some Spurs fans will feel the result was somewhat harsh after a bright opening 45 minutes, in truth if it were not for Brad Friedel’s numerous stops, then the score line could have been far higher. Redknapp will still believe that if he can keep Modric then a top four finish is still within reach. However, whether he feels that he can risk keeping an unhappy player is another question altogether. For Ferguson and his new crop, on the other hand, the future is looking exceedingly bright.