Manchester United were not quite home and dry at a sodden Ewood Park yesterday evening but so comfortable was their victory over Blackburn Rovers that they must’ve felt as relaxed as if they were enjoying a kick-about in their own back yard.
Sir Alex Ferguson is accustomed to watching his side suffer sluggish starts to a campaign, but this season’s early defeat to Liverpool accompanied by a disappointing draw against Newcastle has already been forgotten at Old Trafford. United’s return to form appeared to make a start last weekend, though their home win over Bolton was still slightly unconvincing, and it got back into full flow yesterday as they eased to victory against Paul Ince’s unusually soft-touch Blackburn.
With Dimitar Berbatov beginning to pull the strings up front following his big money move from Tottenham in the summer, the Bulgarian’s fellow attacking comrades were given extra licence to confuse Blackburn’s defenders with clever movement, whilst the centre-backs tried to keep Berbatov under control at the same time. With Berbatov holding his position at the top end of the pitch, Rooney, Ronaldo and Fletcher were all able to move into space that he had created and play around him.
With one centre-back keeping tight to Berbatov as he dropped deeper, a fellow United attacker was able to make a run in the gap behind him. Rooney did this on several occasions in the second-half on Saturday evening, and in one of the chances he benefited from in this situation his chip over the goalkeeper landed inches over the bar.
Whereas last season’s United’s attacks were all based around quick movement and interchanging positions, this term Berbatov will provide a focal point to all the manic movement going on around him. He can produce clever flicks to colleagues when they have found some space out wide or through the middle, or if need be he is terrific at holding the ball up as the likes of Rooney and Ronaldo join him further up the field.
Berbatov’s arrival means United’s attacking force is going to be even harder for opposition defences to halt this campaign. Last season it was hard enough. If one of the centre-backs decides to closely mark Berbatov, then a gap is created behind him which other offensive players can exploit. But if the centre-back leaves Berbatov alone and allows him to control loose balls all the time then he has the ability to hold it up and bring other Old Trafford stars into play. Decisions, decisions.
And with Ronaldo tearing down the wings, Rooney using his combination of tremendous strength and skill across the frontline and midfielders like Fletcher joining in with attacks if they sense vulnerability, United are certain to score plenty of goals this season.
Ferguson has great strength in depth as well, with Tevez also capable of causing havoc up front and midfield stars like Nani, Anderson and Giggs contributing clever passes or powerful shots.
United’s second goal yesterday was a perfect example of how deadly their attack can be when they get it right. Unusually, the move was started off by Berbatov in his own half winning the ball back, a sight not too familiar with Premier League viewers, before he set his team-mates on a lighting-fast rampage up the pitch. The ball was at the feet of Ronaldo on the right-wing in no time, and he easily skipped past Blackburn’s left-back before giving Rooney the opportunity to flash the ball into the top corner from 15-yards. Rooney had made a brilliant run across his marker and to the near post, and his finish showed how confident the striker is at the moment.
United should have scored many more at Ewood Park yesterday, but the Old Trafford faithful will remain just as satisfied after watching such a complete performance. There will no doubt be greater tests for United on the road in the coming months, but getting one over his former player will do for Ferguson at the moment.