On a very chilly day at Old Trafford, Manchester United tore to the top of the Barclays Premier League for the first time all season with a 7-1 win over Blackburn Rovers.
Dimitar Berbatov, who scored his first goal in last 15 United matches, ended up with a mind-boggling five goals to his name, and Ji-Sung Park and Nani chipped in with goals for themselves to cap off the Red Devil’s complete demolition of Blackburn.
The win, which was by-and-far their best performance of the season, takes United, at least temporarily, to summit of the standings ahead of Chelsea’s match with Newcastle United tomorrow, and trumps their best-ever start to Premier League season.
Ahead of the match, news broke that Sir Alex Ferguson has brought a young goalkeeper to the club signing Anders Lindegaard from Danish side, Aalesunds FK, for a report £3.5 million.
There were no real surprises in Sir Alex Ferguson’s starting line-up – especially with the two injury concerns he had ahead of the match – but it saw him name an unchanged forward line with Berbatov and Rooney chosen to lead the line together.
However, the inclusion of Darren Fletcher on the substitutes’ bench came at a real surprise, because the United manager said he was out for a week or so with an ankle injury.
Sam Allardyce set out a typical line-up for an opposing manager at Old Trafford, as he chose a 4-5-1 formation with the intent of forcing United to break them down and hopefully catching them on the ball, but Blackburn were without their leading scorer, Morten Gamst Pedersen.
Within two minutes, though, United were ahead and it was highly-criticized Dimitar Berbatov who put United into the lead.
With the Blackburn goalkeeper, Paul Robinson, struggling from a challenge with Anderson, Nani whipped in a cross into the six-yard box and Berbatov poked it into the visitor’s net.
After being stunned in the opening moments, Blackburn were began to find their feet and they almost had a breakthrough with young Phil Jones, but some sturdy, composed defending from Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand killed off their attack.
Given an opening, Anderson drove at the heart of the Rovers defense, but an unusual poor first touch from Berbatov allowed the away team to clear the danger.
Another driving run, but this time from Nani, tested the wherewithal of Blackburn, but there was no real penetration with seven defenders in the box, so Nani had a go with his left foot, which was pulled horribly wide of the goal, but a telling deflection forced Robinson to get down quickly to his left.
After some skeptical defending after a long ball from Robinson, Christopher Samba had a chance to test Edwin van der Sar, but he fluffed his left-footed shot from inside of the United area and the golden chance was cleared.
United attacked through Nani and Berbatov, and the winger cut inside was not able to get his pass to Wayne Rooney, but Samba’s lunging intervention could have sent the ball anywhere and it, luckily, went out for a corner.
The ensuing corner was driven at Patrice Evra, and the full-back guided his cushioned header towards the Blackburn goal, and it took a very good touch from Robinson to keep the ball out initially, but it fell into a very dangerous area, but Rooney was able to out jump Samba as the tall defender headed out for another corner.
The goal certainly put United in the mood with everyone getting involved in the attack, and the Reds got their second on 23 minutes.
With Blackburn dropping deep, Ji-Sung Park was able to take a few touches before finding Rooney, and with the South Korean continuing his run, the fit-again forward placed a perfect return pass to him, and he clipped it up and over a sliding Paul Robinson.
United were rampant almost had a magnificent third when a great up, back and through between Nani, Rooney and Michael Carrick, but the ball was just out of winger’s reach.
A-what-were-you-thinking back-pass from Pascal Chimbonda found the foot an unsuspecting Berbatov, who made no mistake with the gift from his former Tottenham teammate as he drove it passed his other Spurs’ teammate, Robinson for United’s third.
The three-nil scoreline prompted Allardyce to shift his formation just after 28 minutes bringing David Hoilett for the out-of-sorts Herold Goulon.
Míchel Salgado earned the first booking of the match after cynically tugging down Park after he was beaten for pace, and, comically, the former Real Madrid defender argued with about the yellow card.
From that free-kick, Nani sent in a wonderful teasing ball, which only Vidic went after, but somehow the United captain missed his header and the ball clipped the far post.
Then in the 35th minute, United supporters had their hearts in the mouths as Rooney was being checked for an apparent knee injury, but, thankfully, he returned to the match quickly.
Following some more one-two-one, Nani and Rooney combined well to leave Rovers for dead, but Ryan Nelsen took out the winger, but Lee Probert waved away the appeals.
Hoilett did well to get passed Rafael, but the quick thinking of Ferdinand stopped the first-half sub’s chance, and he cleverly chipped the ball up and over him to rub salt in his wounds.
In the 41st minute, Nani outfoxed his marker, and with acres of space, he let fly from 35-yards from goal, he left fly with a left-footed shot, which ended up harmlessly in the crowd.
Just before half-time, and careless header from Vidic went straight to El-Hadji Diouf, and he did well to pick out Jason Roberts, but the United defenders did well to handle the threat.
In stoppage-time, Diouf should have been sent off for a two-footed, rash challenge on Evra, but the former Liverpool man only got a yellow from the referee.
If the scoreline was not so emphatic, Berbatov would have had a penalty after Salgado stuck out his leg and tripped the United forward, but the very lenient referee again turned down the appeals.
Within minutes of the restart, Berbatov got his third goal of the match after another precise, wonderful passing movement from United.
The Bulgarian started the movement with a charming ball outwide to Nani, and the winger drove at the defenders and then picked out Berbatov who side-footed the shot passed a helpless Paul Robinson.
A minute later, it was five for United.
Anderson sent a delightful through ball, which sent Nani one-on-one with Chimbonda, and the winger teased, tormented and unleashed a vicious shot into the top corner.
The thumping five goal lead prompted Allardyce to make his final two changes with only seven minutes played in the second-half.
Amine Linganzi Koumba and Josh Morris came on for Diouf and Brett Emerton, respectively, to add more cover to prevent even more goals going in.
A clearance from van der Sar was cleverly clipped up to Nani, and even though he was being held back by Nelsen, and with Rooney waiting in the center, he still managed to get his square pass away, but the Rovers’ goalkeeper did well to clear the ball with his feet.
In the 60th minute, United were close to a sixth, but some last-ditch defending from Salgado denied both Evra and Berbatov at the back post.
United were not done, though, and neither was Berbatov – as the Bulgarian scored his fourth and the team’s sixth.
A very good pass from Nani sprung an advanced-Rafael and the young right-back played another superb to find Park, but his shot was block, which led to a scramble inside the Blackburn area, and Berbatov popped up to hammer home.
The scoreline allowed Ferguson to make a change, and the United manager brough off his captain, Vidic, to give Jonny Evans some action.
United were still digging in, and they were carving Rovers apart and it was that man Dimitar Berbatov who capped off another fantastic movement.
Anderson, who was showing industry throughout the match, led another counter attack for United and he picked out Berbatov, but his pass to Rooney was cutout, so, with his second bite of the cherry, he decided to lash home his fifth goal of the match.
With the game all but won, Ferguson gave Gabriel Obertan a chance to showcase his skills as he withdrew the diligent Park.
United continued to step on the pedal, and they were completely toying with an out-matched, dejected Rovers team on the pitch of Old Trafford.
In the 79th minute, Rovers had their first sight at goal all match after David Dunn sent in a well-placed free-kick, but Samba, who rose highest, could not get any pace on his header and van der Sar collected.
Obertan then showed his pace on the counter attack as he got in behind the Rovers’ defense, but a very good save by Robinson denied the young Frenchman a decent chance to add his name to the growing scoreline.
After some more precise passing, Rafael found himself in space on the right flank, but his cross, which had Robinson worried for a bit, ended up on top of the Blackburn net.
United were warned, and Rovers pulled back a late consolation goal.
Within moments of rattling the United crossbar, Samba out-muscled Evans to thump a header back across the face of goal, and left van der Sar with no chance as it nestled into the corner of the net.
That setback did not stop United from going forward, though, because Rafael, again, found himself in space in the Blackburn box, but he blazed over with his weaker foot from 15-yards out.
On the stroke of regulation, United continued to press forward and pump balls in the Blackburn box, and it was Rooney turning provider, and it was fantastically met by Berbatov, who was trying to match George Best as the only six-goal scorer in United’s history, but Robinson did well to palm away his header from underneath his own crossbar.
This was definitely Manchester United’s most well-rounded performance in quite sometime as they showed complete class with a very emphatic win over Blackburn Rovers, which fittingly sent them to the top of the Barclays Premier League.
When a forward scores five goals there is no question he is going to get the honors, but it was a fantastic, gutty performance by Dimitar Berbatov.
E. van der Sar – 6; Rafael – 8, N. Vidic – 7 (J. Evans – 5), R. Ferdinand – 7, P. Evra – 8; Nani – 7, M. Carrick – 8, Anderson – 9, J. S. Park – 8 (G. Obertan – ); W. Rooney – 7, D. Berbatov – 10
D. Berbatov (2′, 27′, 47′, 62′, 70′), J. S. Park (23′), Nani (48′)
Shots (On Target): 17 (9)
Fouls Conceded (Suffered): 6 (7)