Man Utd: Saha 7′, Pearce (OG) 14′, Rooney 16′ 64′, Ronaldo 19′
Fulham: Ferdinand (OG) 40′
Arguably, Manchester United had one of the easiest ties – a home game against a Fulham side that has an awful away record from last season.
But then again, Arsenal were up against Villa and Liverpool were at relegation favourites Sheffield United. All three teams had easy games, but only one side got the win when it mattered.
The easy pickings and Fulham’s defensive foibles take nothing away from a fantastic 5-1 victory in which Manchester United were scoring and showboating with ease. 4 goals in the first 19 minutes, and after Pearce’s own goal (United’s 2nd) it was simply a matter of how many goals Manchester United could manage.
We have, quite often, gotten into such commanding positions and then failed to press on. This time though, Fulham managed to get their bearings right after the 30th minute and were able to go forward a bit more. Manchester United probably should have won with 6 or 7 goals, but the 5-1 win over Fulham definitely lays down a marker for the rest of the Premiership.
The exchange between Michael Brown and Ryan Giggs was unfortunate – as was the own goal but apart from those two incidents Manchester United played great flowing football and controlled the game from start to end.
The win is great, but nothing to get too excited about.
Manchester United have a tendency to blow hot and cold at times, and the successive away games with Charlton and Watford will be a tough test for us considering that Rooney and Scholes – the two players at the heart of all our moves – are suspended. United will especially miss Rooney, considering that he had a hand in almost every goal (scored 2, set up Ronaldo’s goal and forced the own goal).
Solskjaer or Rossi should replace Rooney in the lineup, and perhaps Giggs will move back to central midfield to cover for Scholes.
More on the Charlton game next week. For now, let’s look at how the players did.
Edwin van der Sar: Hardly had any work to do, and dealt with the few shots that got through very easily. Was unluckly with the goal, but the deflection unsighted him and left him no chance to recover.
Gary Neville: Was back to his commanding best in the first half, shackling Boa Morte and providing the cross for the move that led to Rooney’s first goal. With Bardsley off to the Rangers on loan, United need Neville to stay fit.
Rio Ferdinand: Had a decent game, but the own goal (although not his fault) will rankle him. Did not go as far forward as he does, but then again with the front 5 in such great form he never needed to.
Wes Brown: Switched to right-back after Neville came off, and proved my theory that this guy can play full-back as well. He’s fast, strong on tackles and topped things off with an excellent assist for Rooney’s second goal.
Patrice Evra: Fast, good on the ball, but isn’t a good crosser (an early cross was perhaps the worst seen by an Manchester United player in recent memory). I’m hoping he can keep Silvestre on the bench, but to do that he’ll have to improve his crossing and test himself against the top sides. He’s a good tackler though, but nothing that would scare Silvestre or Heinze.
Cristiano Ronaldo: Works best in such attacking environments, and has developed an excellent understanding with Rooney. Glad he’s still here, and hopefully we can keep him at Old Trafford for a long time. His ability to play on both flanks, plus the willingness to cut in to the box when needed makes him one of the most difficult players to mark. Should have scored on the one-on-one with Niemi – that was a bad miss.
John O’Shea: Had little to do – he went from box to box breaking up play and laying off short passes. Was the Premier League’s 16th best player last season, above the likes of Peter Cech. The fact that he can keep Fletcher and Miller out of the first team says as much about his talents as it does about theirs.
Paul Scholes: Part of the front 5, and the initiator of most of our good moves. His willingness to track back and defend as well means that if he stays fit (and on form), he could be the answer (or part of the answer) to the attacking threat we missed last season.
Ryan Giggs: What more can you say about Giggs? Year after year he produces top-quality balls into the box (such as the exchange with Saha for United’s first goal) – finding a replacement for him will be very difficult for United, although we do have Richardson waiting in the wings.
Wayne Rooney: Boy wonder, man of the match and the player who will determine where Manchester United stand at the end of the season in the Premiership and the Champions League. Responsible for four of United’s five goals – you can’t ask much more from him than that.
Louis Saha: Needs to fine-tune his shooting a bit, but can easily score 20 goals for Manchester United this season.
Mikael Silvestre (sub): Came on for Neville – he’s not a bad player, but surely we can get better ones? Didn’t have much to do, and cleaned up the Fulham moves quite nicely.
Park Ji-Sung (sub): Needs a LOT of target practice. Park seems short of confidence at times, and that could be because of any language problems he has (although by now he should have learned something). Looked a bit off the pace, and will need to improve.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (sub): Didn’t fit in too well with the tempo United had set – Rooney and Ronaldo will need to slow their games down a bit to bring Solskjaer into it.
Read the ManUtd.com match report.