As I write this, Chelsea are 2-0 up at Stamford Bridge, firmly placed to reduce the gap between themselves and Manchester United back to 6 points (and maybe improve their goal-difference ‘difference’ as well).
Manchester United won’t mind though – 6 points, 8 games to go, and with every game Manchester United’s trip to Chelsea becomes more and more academic.
Manchester United started fast, showing that you can control the game by attacking the opposition as well instead of just keeping the ball. Neville had to be substituted early on as he tore an ankle ligament (Neville’s out of the Monday FA Cup replay as well as the 2 Euro 2008 qualifiers). Brown replaced him, and he’s looked better as a right-back with every game that he’s played in that position, and he should be more than adequate cover for Manchester United and England in the coming weeks.
Manchester United’s first goal was probably over the side line before Ronaldo brought it back and passed it back into Ji-Sung Park’s path – a crystal-clear case of using goal-line technology to decide in such matters. Manchester United’s second though, knocked Bolton out of the game.
From a Bolton attack, Ronaldo cleared the ball to Rooney who nudged it back into his path, setting off a run that ended outside Bolton’s box, with Ronaldo side-footing the ball back to Rooney who chipped it over Jussi’s head to cap off the perfect counter-attacking move.
You had to see it in real time to appreciate the sheer pace of the move and the quality of Ronaldo and Rooney.
United’s third was a poacher’s special, Ronaldo shooting from outside the box hoping for a rebound, which duly came back and Park and Giggs both broke for it, Park slotting in his second, United’s third and showing up a Bolton defence that is looking more and more average as the season goes on.
United’s fourth goal was as much Alan Smith as it was Rooney – Smith controlled a clearing header from Rio on his chest, before swivelling around and lobbing the ball behind Bolton’s defence in Rooney’s path, who happily ran up to to the Bolton goal and put away his second of the game.
Rooney’s coming into goal-scoring form at the right time of the season, and it has much to do with his new role as principal striker. He played furthest up front against Europe XI and scored a couple, he did the same here against Bolton. With Ronaldo and Giggs taking up the support striker role (or even Alan Smith), Rooney is quite capable of leading the line and scoring 20+ goals in a season.
Bolton’s goal, like United’s first, was due to a refereeing error – Faye claimed a penalty for a non-existent Vidic push, got it and Speed duly scored his 5th goal from the spot.
Manchester United dominated the game for the first 45 minutes and the last 30 minutes, with Bolton only managing to push United for the first 15 minutes of the second half.
Also see the BBC Match Report.
Neville’s injury is a blow, but it was good to see Rio and Vidic back in action, and in Brown United have adequate cover for Neville (with O’Shea there as backup as well).
It’s good to see Heinze play down the left – he was rarely beaten and kept Diouf quiet for long periods of the game (the time that Diouf was on the pitch, that is).
Richardson is not fit to play in an attacking position – he has the ball skills but not the right temperament or decision-making skills. He barged into Jaaskelainen when he had no chance of getting the ball and deservedly went into the book. Ferguson should be looking to play Richardson more, but someone has to teach him to think with his head instead of his feet.
Ronaldo and Rooney are finally looking like the deadly combo United fans have dreamed them to be. And after Ronaldo’s virtuoso performance and the standing ovation he received after he left the pitch, you can see that he’s loving the attention and lapping it up. He won’t leave this season, for so many reasons already mentioned earlier on this site.
Against Boro on Monday, United will probably start the same side that finished against Bolton, with Ronaldo and Giggs on the bench, Park and Richardson on the wings and Smith playing with up front with Rooney. United should win that game, even if they need a Ronaldo cameo to finish the game.
Michael Carrick had a big role in nullifying Bolton’s threat today. He does such an excellent job of shepherding attacking players to the flanks that unless the opposition team has a really talented attacking midfielder like Gerrard, Lampard or Ballack, they can’t force through down the centre (and even then they have a second midfielder like Scholes to deal with). Carrick’s only failing is that he stays too far behind and doesnt get enough opportunities to shoot (that and he doesn’t run with the ball), but his positioning and defensive play is excellent, and he’s as much responsible for United’s win today as Ronaldo, Rooney and Park.
Kudos to the fans for applauding Neville off the field (and incidentally, praise to the Chelsea fans for applauding the Sheffield United player who was stretchered off injured early in the Stamford Bridge), although it has to be said the fans were a bit quiet during the middle phase of the game (they perked up after the 60th minute as United started to push Bolton back and go for the 4th goal though).
Manchester United 2-0 Bolton (Rooney)
17' [2 – 0] W. Rooney
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Manchester United 4-0 Bolton (Rooney)
74' [4 – 0] W. Rooney
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