A backlash was required after the Turf Moor shambles, and Premier League Champions Manchester United sensationally provided a thoroughly powerful response to their doubters.
Question marks were justifiably raised after United’s early season goalshy approach produced an unconvincing win against Birmingham and then a limp defeat at the hands of Burnley – the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez were being raised in more prominent terms. This display will not silence all the doubters but it did send out a clear message to their title rivals.
Such a blitz was threatened in a first half performance that had all the hallmarks of a side powered by one or two Fergie rockets – Rooney was sensational, Berbatov was at his irrestistible best, while Valencia and Nani showed the kind of form United fans will be hoping is the norm in this campaign. But for all their efforts – and clear cut as they were, with a Fletcher effort blocked on the line by Titus Bramble, a Scholes drive horribly miscued after a delicious flick from Berbatov, a couple of Rooney efforts that Kirkland did well to save, and a Berbatov chance amazingly robbed by a last ditch tackle by Bramble again – it looked as if it would be another frustrating affair for the champions.
Wigan did threaten themselves, and began to impose themselves on the game midway through the first half, with a Jason Koumas 20 yard curler that was expertly saved by Ben Foster their brightest moment.
If anything was said at half time – whether from Sir Alex or the players themselves – it certainly made a difference, and what threatened to turn out to be profligacy became sheer domination.
Antonio Valencia added a statistical credential to his promising performance, with a marvellous cross that was equally brilliantly headed in by Wayne Rooney for his 100th Manchester United goal.
A goal rush followed – United’s performance had hinted that one might knock down the barndoor, and it did. Berbatov was the beneficiary of clever play by Fletcher and Rooney, though the hard work was by no means done, and a finish that was preceded by a trademark deft touch was the Bulgarian’s reward for a fine display. He then fed Rooney who cut inside and finished via a deflection to begin his second century – and there was an air of inevitability about Rooney’s replacement, Michael Owen, getting his first ever goal for the club. It was smartly taken on his weaker side, deftly clipped in off the post, and registered with obvious delight.
In stoppage time Nani fired a free kick over, but there was still time to correct that – another, around 25 yards out, was dispatched into the bottom corner, to register the youngsters first goal of the season – it will be a real boost, considering the pressure he faces in the coming campaign.
What may have made Sir Alex more pleased with the display was that it came against a combative and energetic Wigan side, who tested the defence on several occasions – it was a big afternoon for the “front 4”, too, as all indications are this will be the boss’s first choice. And, on this showing at least, they are well up for the task ahead.
Foster 8, Neville 7, Vidic 8, Evans 8 (O’Shea 6), Evra 7, Valencia 8, Scholes 7 (Gibson 7), Fletcher 8, Nani 8, *Rooney 9 (Owen 7), Berbatov 8