It was party time at Old Trafford as Manchester United, winners of 6 Premier League titles, 2 League Cups, an FA Cup, a European Cup, and a World Club Cup in the last 10 years, saw out the decade in style by reproducing their five goal haul at the DW Stadium against the same opponents.
United took a few minutes to get into their proper attacking rhythm with fragmented build up that clearly had potential – Wayne Rooney in particular pulling all the strings. Wigan’s set up was conducive to an open game; in fairness, they have been the same all season, and are probably the perfect team to illustrate the crazy inconsistency of the top flight this season.
Once the Champions did find their rhythm, however, they were devestating, brilliantly utilising the potency of Valencia and invention of Rooney. Early sighters from Rooney and Fletcher were added to by a long range Rooney effort before the number 10 hit the post after brilliantly skinning a defender. The pressure was mounting and in the 28th minute Valencia weighted a ball into the path of the bombarding Rafael.
The full back’s first time cross was precide; Rooney’s first time effort was too, and United were one up. The second was not long in coming with Wigan on the ropes and Valencia turned provider after racing onto a wonderful through ball from Berbatov. Michael Carrick was the recipient of the pull back, and steered the ball into the back of the net.
Wigan didn’t just lie down; an ambitious 45 yard effort from Thomas troubled Kuszczak before dipping just over, and Wes Brown was employed to make a last ditch tackle. The last minute of the half saw a special moment that put the result beyond doubt, Rafael collecting Fletcher’s forward ball and cleverly shifting his feet and coolly slotting home with his left foot from 18 yards. The young Brazilian has a real opportunity to seize a first team spot with the injury crisis at the club and few remember how he was making it his own before he was struck by injury last year. That he adds an unpredictable element going forward is just a bonus to his non-stop energy and the early encouraging signs of his and Valencia’s combination.
Such games from recent past usually peter out in the second half but Sir Alex Ferguson’s men pushed for more goals throughout the 90 minutes, either buoyed by the occasion, wanting to give Fergie an early birthday present, or both. Wigan replaced keeper Kirkland with ex-United trainee Mike Pollitt at half time and the replacement quickly got his hands warm from a Rooney shot – two minutes later, in the 48th minute, he was picking the ball out of the net. Valencia was the architect again, absolutely roasting Figueroa, and his cross across goal was missed by a defender and met by Berbatov who had time to control and finish comfortably.
Moments later and it could have been five – a brilliant passing move concluded with Berbatov waiting and dinking the ball into Rooney, but his header hit the frame of the goal.
Ferguson took the opportunity to makes changes, resting Vidic and Evra, and the Champions continued to perform a seige on the Latics goal, creating chance after chance. It could have been 7 or 8 – in the end, it was only 5, with the last goal coming 15 minutes from the end. Rooney found space to run in the midfield and his through ball was finished quite outstandingly – and thoroughly deservedly so – by the brilliant Valencia, against his former team.
Tomasz Kuszczak also still had time to outline his CV credentials as a potential number 1, making a great save from Rodallega with 10 minutes left.
Ferguson said earlier in the season that if United were in touching distance at the top by the turn of the year that he fancied the Champions to have a real push at an unprecedented fourth successive Premier League title. They are, and with performances such as the one tonight, there is every chance that glory could beckon in the new decade just as it ushered the last one out.
Ratings : Kuszczak 8, Rafael 9, Brown 7, Vidic 7 (Anderson 7), Evra 7 (Fabio 7), *Valencia 9, Carrick 8, Fletcher 8, Park 7, Rooney 8, Berbatov 8 (Welbeck 7)