Could you feel it?
To those of you who watched Manchester United – injury-struck, frustrated, goal-less, second-place Manchester United – on TV deliver an Old-Trafford style spanking to the boys from JJB, could you feel it?
There was something special about Old Trafford yesterday, something special about the team itself (I felt it thousands of miles away on a weak satellite signal through a decade-old TV, imagine what it would have been like at OT). They lost Vidic but they stood firm. The lost Mr. Versatility but they stood firm. New boys at the back, slow and new in the middle, uncertain and without backup up front, with the home crowd’s expectactions weighing on their shoulders. It was the perfect setting for the perfect match; Wigan had the bit between their teeth and they had their best chance in the last 3 seasons of beating Manchester United at home.
Except that this was not the perfect match. When the weekend is over, people will perhaps look at Arsenal’s potential thrashing of Keano’s men (what I wouldn’t give to see Keano don a Sunderland kit to drive his team on from midfield against the Arsenal), or the crunch game between Liverpool and Tottenham (a Torres-style decimation, methinks) as the game of the weekend. So be it.
Going into half-time at 0-0, not a single Manchester United fan in the stadium or anyone watching at home or in the pubs could feel disheartened. If you are inclined to disagree, I want to draw your attention to a single incident in the first half that brought the entire stadium to their feet to give the Argie bulldog a rapturous ovation for going all over the pitch to win back the ball (which he finally did). At that point, the Wigan players could have taken the ball in their bus back to the JJB and Tevez would still have tracked them down and won the ball back.
The crowd loved it. The fans loved it. The players, all around Tevez, knew they were still champions.
At this point, it would be remiss of me to not mention Patrice Evra’s sterling contributions in the first half, where, despite one noticeable incident of poor positioning from which he bailed himself out fantastically well, he was excellent – not that Wigan threatened much, but still, credit where credit is due.
And when the Manchester United squad came out in the second half, this is what they looked like:
Simpson, Rio, Pique, Evra
Ronaldo, Anderson, Scholes, Giggs
I remember thinking – this is how Fergie should be blooding new players, because these are the games in which the likes of Pique and Simpson will learn their trade and excel and in the future, be a regular fixture in the Manchester United line up.
The second half – what happened in those 45 minutes – can be explained in two different ways. I could tell you the critical blogger’s point of view, where Wigan gave Anderson and Scholes too much space in midfield, where Hutchings didn’t send on a second man to support Bent nor did he urge his players to make runs at Simpson and lob balls behind Evra. I could tell you all about Wigan’s failings, but I won’t.
I want to tell you what a Manchester United fan saw.
There are teams who, once given a pass at greatness, choke and fall in despair. There are other teams who don’t need a second invitation – teams like Manchester United who will come at you from all angles, as a team and as individuals, and they will keep coming and attacking and pushing until the walls break down and they are, at the end of 90 minutes + 1, clear cut, deserving winners.
Wigan offered United that chance when several Wigan defenders couldn’t stop Carlos Tevez. Tevez, for all his critics, was born to score such goals. Where defenders committed and then let him go, he kept the ball and dodged even the keeper (who had a flawless game, such was the quality of the goals and his keeping otherwise) before slotting the ball past two defenders. The crowd was up, the manager smiled, and at that point you knew this was going to be like last season, this was going to be like old times.
The second and third goals were Ronaldo’s, and both showed the amazing composure these young players have. For the second, it is to Ronaldo’s credit that he took his shot calmly and didn’t rush it – how many players have you seen who miss the ball when it’s delivered on a silver platter? Ronaldo’s made the mistake before but with nerves of steel boy wonder’s best friend knocked in the second and lapped up the applause.
For the third though, you have to praise Rooney’s selflessness and Ronaldo’s sheer pace. These two form a fearsome partnership (who remembers that box-to-box run these two made last season?) and with Anderson, Nani and Tevez joining them in attack you cannot, in any seriousness, be worried about United’s future. The break was quick – a pass from Pique that allowed Rooney to break free and when you have Ronaldo running straight down the middle, you only need to look up and pass. Rooney’s pass was picture perfect, Ronaldo tapped it in and the match was effectively over for the crowd, and all that was left to wait for was a Rooney goal.
The gods do not disappoint – Danny Simpson’s excellent cross from the right was nodded in by Rooney in textbook fashion, pure skill and timing on both ends. Kirkland could only flap, Wigan were on the receiving end of yet ANOTHER 4-0 drubbing and Manchester United had maintained their record of scoring the most goals against Wigan.
United’s injury list – for reference:
Neville, Vida, Brown, Silvestre
Fletcher, Carrick, O’Shea, Hargreaves, Park
That team could beat Wigan 4-0.
Sure, it was only Wigan, so we weren’t tested at all. But I didn’t hear anyone saying that when John O’Shea went off, or when we came off at halftime. But right now, we’re celebrating, we’re living the moment. Every win matters, every goal counts – if you think differently, don’t tell me about it.