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Belief, desire and no little guts

April 25, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 8 comments

Manchester United’s victory over Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford is a lesson – as if  really needed – in Sir Alex Ferguson’s over-whelming hunger for silverware this season.  This is far from a vintage United side, stripped of it’s best players in the summer and again now through injury, but don’t let Ferguson hear you say that.

Understandably the Scot kept news of Rooney’s injury under wraps on Friday, despite later admitting that the young Scouse striker had suffered a groin strain during training on Thursday.

It’s an injury that may keep United’s 34-goal forward on the sidelines for the two remaining fixtures – away at Sunderland in a week’s time before the season’s dénouement at Old Trafford 9 May.

Such is Rooney’s importance to both the tactical and mental side of United’s make-up this season that fourth-placed Spurs would surely have taken a huge boost from news of the striker’s absence.

Not without just cause . United post Rooney’s ankle injury in the Allianz Arena three weeks ago, has a decidedly flat feel to it.

Indeed, Bayern’s “beautiful defeat” and Chelsea’s linesman-aided victory at Old Trafford together with the underwhelming draw at Blackburn Rovers all but ended United’s season.

At least that was the script.

Thus to Spurs and with Harry Redknapp’s Champions League hopefuls having beaten both Chelsea and Arsenal within a week, form and Rooney’s absence might fairly point to the first result for the Londoners at Old Trafford since 1989.

But Redknapp’s side and more importantly United each reverted to type. It is now 67 ties since White Hart Lane’s finest has beaten any of the top four on the road – a remarkable record for a club that traditionally lies just outside the cartel.

Whatever the merits of United’s charge towards a fourth straight Premier League title or Spurs’ claims on a place in Europe’s elite, the home side emerged victorious as much for its mental strength as technical merits.

Patrice Evra’s insistence on playing on while depositing his breakfast on Old Trafford’s well-manicured turf was admirable. That Nani repeated the trick only underlined a squad-wide desperation to beat Chelsea to the title this season. Rooney or not.

Determination that shone through not only on the pitch but the dugout too.

Ferguson’s tendency to roll the dice once again bore fruit. The gambler’s instinct always pervades and in hauling off Rafael da Silva – no mug on the day – for Federico Macheda and shifting Darren Fletcher to right-back, the Scot pulled off the match-winning substitution.

Indeed, the Italian’s astute pass to set up Nani for United’s second goal demonstrated maturity beyond his limited tenure in the game.

That Rafael celebrated the goal with the gusto of 70,000 other United supporters said much of team spirit within the camp in the final days of the Premier League season.

If the Brazilian teenager failed to keep his cool the same cannot be said of Ryan Giggs, who twice beat Heurelho Gomes from the penalty spot as if it mattered little more than a training ground kick around.

“His experience showed in the end because he took two really good penalties,” said Ferguson Giggs’ decision to take his first Premier League penalties in more than 20 years at United.

“We played well, that was important, but most important was we kept our nerve.”

Indeed, with Rooney absent United stood taller than many expected.

Meanwhile, Chelsea face Stoke City today, with captain John Terry missing following his dismissal against Redknapp’s side last weekend.

The Londoner’s mental strength is in doubt, having blown more opportunities to seal the title this season than Carlo Ancellotti should forgive himself for.

If the Potteries club pull off a result few will be surprised.

“I hope Chelsea are feeling the pressure,” added Ferguson.

“We have two games left, we are top of the league at the moment and we have done our job.

“Who is to say what is going to happen?

“Now we will have to see what Chelsea can do.”

Giggs earns Spurs with penalty double

April 24, 2010 Tags: , Matches 4 comments

Patrice Evra was once, twice, three times violently sick on the Old Trafford turf but Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham Hotpsur left Manchester forced to stomach the pain of defeat. Evra’s all too literal contribution to a gutsy 3-1 Manchester United victory sent Sir Alex that Ferguson’s side top of the table with just two games remaining.

The French fullback may have left everything on the pitch in pursuit of the points but Ferguson’s side overcame even greater obstacles at Old Trafford to heap pressure on Chelsea in the Premier League title race, with the Londoners not playing until tomorrow.

Missing both Wayne Rooney – absent with a groin injury that is likely to keep the striker on the sidelines for the remaining matches of the campaign – and Rio Ferdinand, Ferguson could be forgiven for feeling as anxious as the Old Trafford crowd after the visitors’ second half equaliser.

“The most important thing today was that we kept our nerve,” claimed the Scot, in the face of palpable tension from a capacity Old Trafford crowd.

“There were no signs of nerves whatsoever – even after they equalised. Experience helps us.”

Indeed, long before Ryan Giggs’ brace of coolly taken penalties and Nani’s exquisite goal sealed United’s victory, the visiting side threatened to spoil Ferguson’s chase for honours.

Such is the increase in Spurs’ star this season that the visitors’ limp performance surprised many in the crowd, not least the Londoners’ manager.

In truth a tepid first half rarely saw the best of either side, with neither United nor Harry Redknapp’s Champions League chasing outfit able to stamp their mark on the encounter.

Ferguson chose to pack his midfield, no doubt cognoscent of Luka Modric’s contribution to Spurs renaissance this season. But with Rooney absent, Dimitar Berbatov ploughed an often frustrating lone furrow in an opening period short on excitement but high on tension.

Not until the half-hour did United seriously threaten Heurelho Gomes’ net, with Berbatov finding time and space to strike a dipping volley just wide of the Brazilian’s goal.

King then superbly blocked another Berbatov strike, this time from inside the area, before Antonio Valencia fired straight at Gomes when clean through.

Even so, Old Trafford reserved the biggest cheer of a low-key half  for Owen Hargraves, who joined United’s bench despite sitting out two days of training this week. The injury-plagued midfielder has missed the past 18 months following surgery to both knees.

Minutes into the second period and the spring heat-wave that descended on Old Trafford claimed its first victim, with Evra violently sick. The Frenchman played on after lengthy attention, later unsurprisingly replaced by John O’Shea.

But United’s most consistent defender this season remained on the pitch long-enough to play a key role in the opening goal. Berbatov – increasingly influential – smartly played Evra in to force Benoit Assou-Ekotto into the foul that brought the first of United’s two penalties. Giggs beat the ‘keeper’s dive to, albeit briefly, relieve the tension in M16.

The goal should have liberated the home side. Instead, with Valencia sacrificed for Michael Carrick, United sat back on the lead and invited the visitors forward.

As Ferguson’s outfit dropped deeper Spurs pressed on, winning the corner from which King headed home the visitors’ goal.

For a quarter-hour the match could have fallen either way but Ferguson’s gamble, introducing teenage striker Federico Macheda for Rafael da Silva, paid hefty dividends.

Indeed, the Italian’s pass found Nani, who wonderfully chipped Gomes to finally break Spurs’ resistance.

Minutes later and the Portuguese winger’s charge into the box drew a second foul – this time from Wilson Palacios – and referee Andre Marriner had little option but to award a second spot-kick of the afternoon.

Giggs fired home. Incredibly these were the Welshman’s first penalties in the Premier League for the club.

Now Ferguson and the crowd could finally relax.

“Nani’s finish was absolutely brilliant,” said Ferguson, although Rooney’s new injury will temper any excitement.

“To have the audacity to do that tells you all about the lad’s courage.

“We had a bit of sickness with two or three players today, but we’ve got eight days to recover, so hopefully we’ll be okay.”

Ferguson substituted Evra in the second period before seeing Nani also throw up on the pitch late in the game.

“Evra just felt it yesterday, but he felt okay to play and it just happened. Maybe the heat brought it on a little bit, it was a warm day.” the Scot added.

“I don’t know what’s happened, whether it’s something he ate or is something going around the place.”

Nevertheless, Ferguson’s delight with three points in – on paper at least – by far United’s toughest fixture of the Premier League run-in is understandable.

Moreover, the result heaps pressure on Carlo Ancelotti Chelsea to match the result or face a trip to Anfield next weekend requiring a win.

Then we’ll see who’s sick with nerves.

Fergie gets lifted ahead of Spurs tie

April 23, 2010 Tags: , Matches No comments

Sir Alex Ferguson says that the last-minute victory over Manchester City last weekend has lifted Manchester United’s morale ahead of Tottenham Hotspur’s visit to Old Trafford Saturday lunchtime. The Scot, who denied any retirement talk, says that the squad is in high spirits ahead of the crunch clash with Harry Redknapp’s fourth-placed Spurs.

Ferguson will include Wayne Rooney, who has trained all week, Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown in an almost fully fit squad. Aside from long-term injury absentees Michael Owen and Anderson, only Owen Hargreaves misses out with a minor calf strain in a buoyant squad.

Indeed, the Scot says that the atmosphere at Carrington this weeks points to a title-winning charge over the final three games of the Premier League season.

“There has been a lift in the camp this week,” said the 68-year-old Scottish manager.

“There has been always a great atmosphere in our training over the years but then you get a lift like last week and the change is very noticeable. It’s been very competitive. The players are lifted and charged up. I trust them and I hope they can do it for me again.”

United, just a point behind leaders Chelsea with the Londoners yet to visit Anfield this season, have vast experience in Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs in a time of extreme stress.

But Ferguson says pressure is irrelevant to his resilient squad, with the team prepared to wait until the final minute against Spurs to win if necessary. Still, with Chelsea not in action until Sunday United can take a two-point lead in the Premier League with a win on Saturday.

“Chelsea have a lot of experienced players but pressure does come into it at this kind of year,” added Ferguson.

“It’s going to be nervy for some players and supporters. Some players will get nervy, no question about that. It happens.

“When Scholes scored I was resigned to the game finishing nil-nil. It would have been very difficult for us to win the league after that but we won the game with the last kick of the ball and we have done that far too many times for it just to be a coincidence.”

Inevitably, Ferguson is full of praise for Spurs, who are undergoing something of a renaissance under Redknapp. The Cockney manager has taken the Londoners from two points above the relegation zone last season to the verge of Champions League qualification.

“I think they are the best Tottenham team of my time in England,” added the Scot.

“On the one hand I congratulate them for beating Chelsea but, on the other hand, we now face the problems that Chelsea faced and we have to play against them.

“Spurs are going for fourth place and I’m sure they will come to have a go. We always expect that of Tottenham and, looking at their form in the last two games, I don’t think anyone below ourselves and Chelsea, possibly Arsenal, have reached that kind of form.

“What you saw from Spurs against Arsenal and Chelsea was championship form, convincingly beating two of the best three teams in the league.”

Ferguson will likely deploy Rooney in the lone front-man role, with two of Antonio Valencia, Ryan Giggs and Nani in support from wide areas.

The principal choice for the Scot is in central midfield with former Tottenham player Michael Carrick, Darron Gibson, Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher fighting for three places.

A certain starter is 35-year-old Gary Neville, outstanding against Craig Bellamy last weekend, and potentially World Cup bound such is his experience and form.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he went to South Africa,” added his manager.

First things first – beat Spurs on Saturday.

Two games to decide a season

April 20, 2010 Tags: , , , Opinion 24 comments

Just 180 minutes of nail-biting football will decide this  year’s Premier League title. Manchester United’s home fixture against in-form Tottenham Hotspur this Saturday lunchtime is followed on 2 May by Liverpool’s match with Chelsea at Anfield. While United must win any failure by Chelsea could see the title head to Old Trafford.

Spurs’ record at Old Trafford is laughably poor but that is unlikely to fool Sir Alex Ferguson this weekend. Indeed, with Harry Redknapp’s side having beaten both Arsenal and Chelsea in the past week the Londoners feel confident on improving a record that has not included an Old Trafford win since 1989. That victory followed a League Cup win for the Londoners on the same ground six weeks before.

Records are there for breaking but Redknapp’s push for entry into the Champions League third qualification round next season is motivation enough for the Londoners, who lie just two points ahead of Manchester City in fourth.

The question on most United fans’ lips is which Ferguson side will turn up on Saturday: the one with the desire and drive to dominate and ultimately win the Manchester derby last weekend, or the limp outfit that failed to score at Blackburn Rovers?

Ultimately that may come down to the fitness of Wayne Rooney, who looked no more than 80 per cent of his peak against City at the weekend.

Champions League qualification is a problem unlikely to concern Rafa Benitez in 10 days time, with Liverpool five points off Spurs having played a game more. Realistically, the Anfield outfit will fight it out with Aston Villa for a place in next season’s Europa League.

But with Liverpool’s semi-final second leg against Athletico Madrid in the same competition taking place less than three days before Chelsea’s visit Benitez’ side being physically and mentally shattered is a very real threat.

Notwithstanding Liverpool supporters’ laughable desire to see their own side lose. There’s nothing like hating your rivals more than loving your own team. See also: Manchester City.

Chelsea’s last six visits to Anfield in all competitions has yielded just one win but Liverpool’s league position and fixture list makes Carlo Ancelotti’s side marginal favourites for the win.

While United face a trip to Sunderland before a final day home fixture against Stoke, Chelsea play the Potteries club this weekend before a home game against Wigan Athletic on the final day. Each manager will expect their sides to pick up maximum points from these fixtures.

Perhaps United’s only real advantage is that Ferguson’s side meets Spurs a week before Chelsea’s Anfield visit. Win and the pressure for Chelsea to beat Liverpool is then immense. Pressure does strange things after all, with Ancelotti’s outfit unable to cope with their cross town rivals at the weekend.

Indeed, Frank Lampard openly admitted that United’s last-gasp victory at Eastlands deflated his side ahead of the visit to Spurs.

The stress is certainly showing on both sides in what is perhaps the tightest top flight finish since Arsenal beat Liverpool at Anfield to take the 1988/89 Football League First Division. That year the London side took the title on goals scored, although it would take an extraordinary set of results to produce a similar finish this season.

Down then to which team scores the better result against top-four hopefuls. History suggests United, circumstance marginally favours Chelsea.

VIDEO: United 2 – 0 Tottenham Hotspur

December 3, 2009 Tags: , Video No comments

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Kids KO Spurs to reach semis

December 2, 2009 Tags: , Matches 2 comments

Darron Gibson’s brace was enough to put Manchester United into the Carling Cup semi-finals last night as Sir Alex Ferguson’s men beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 at Old Trafford . Following United’s loss to Besiktas in the Champions League, the pressure was on the current crop of Old Trafford youngsters to perform against a Spurs side now third in the Premier League.

The result was scant reward for Spurs, who started the match brightly and created several chances in the opening period. However, it was Gibson who twice scored against the run of play to take the game for the home side. The 22-year-old Irish international’s first goal, a low drive past Heurelho Gomes, left the Spurs ‘keeper helpless on the quarter hour. And Gibson’s second, following neat work by Dimitar Berbatov and a smart layoff from Danny Welbeck, was an explosive finish into the top corner on 34 minutes.

Harry Redknapp’s side tested United on a number of occasions in a first half  dominated by the away team, despite the Reds’. Both the in-form Jermaine Defoe and recalled David Bentley forced saves from Tomasz Kuszczak, preferred to Ben Foster, in the United goal.

Nemanja Vidic, showing signs of returning to his imperious best with a solid performance at the back, then stopped Robbie Keane with a great challenge to deny the livewire Irish international.

On the home side, Gabriel Obertan continued to impress with some good running from the right-wing. The Frenchman’s rapid progress has already eclipsed the Portuguese misfit Nani, who was left out of the match squad once again. Anderson, pulling the strings from the centre of midfield, put in his finest performance of the season to date.

Meanwhile in defence, 20-year-old Belgian full-back Ritchie De Laet put in a convincing performance, comfortably containing David Bentley on Spurs’ right. If Ferguson was concerned about lack of cover for Patrice Evra, he need not be.

In the end the second half was little more than a training session for United, with Spurs lacking the creative edge – or apparently the drive – to force the away side back into the match. A point made somewhat bitterly by disappointed Spurs manager Harry Redknapp after the match.

By contrast, Sir Alex was full of praise for the central midfield, calling out Gibson and Anderson as the “two stars” of the match.

“Once Anderson imposed himself on the game, he was able to attack players in the middle of the park and we finished up comfortable winners,” Ferguson said.

“And Darron Gibson is the one player in our club who can score great goals from outside the box. He has such tremendous power in his shot.”

“That second goal was excellent, there was so much movement involved, on and off the ball, and the finish itself was absolutely terrific.

“We have to look upon this as a really good win for us.”

Gary Neville, club captain, praised the younger players while insisting that the time has come to integrate Gibson and others into the first team.

“In the first half today we didn’t play the best football, but Gibbo scored two goals and that makes it routine for you,” Neville told Sky Sports.

“I don’t think they’re younger players, they’re playing for their countries. They deserve to be there by right.”

“They are Premier League players of that quality, they are obviously developing. It’s going to be difficult but we’re in the semi final and we want to continue to do well this year.”

With Irishman Gibson fast developing a reputation for excellent long-range shooting, many pundits feel the Derry-born midfielder could he be a ready-made replacement for Paul Scholes.

The semi-final draw takes place this evening at 21.55 following the two remaining quarter finals, which include Arsenal, Manchester City, Blackburn and Chelsea.

Team: Kuszczak, Neville, Brown, Vidic, De Laet, Anderson (Tosic 82), Park, Gibson, Berbatov (Macheda 62), Welbeck, Obertan (Carrick 62).

Fergie slams critics as kids face Spurs

November 30, 2009 Tags: , Matches 1 comment

Sir Alex Ferguson has rounded on critics of United’s younger players while promising to keep faith in the kids during the Carling Cup this season. The 67-year-old Scot says United’s youngsters, beaten by Beşiktaş in Champions League group B last Wednesday, will play against Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow night. No matter what the critics say.

“Those lads need to be challenged and I thought they did OK. They did not deserve that kind of criticism,” Ferguson said ahead of Tuesday night’s Carlin Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford.

“Those same people will be going cap in hand to them, begging them for interviews in a few years’ time, mark my words. It is so hypocritical.

“I don’t need to motivate them with what has been said. Their future is well mapped out. But the one thing we cannot give them is an old head, which is what we saw in the last third of the pitch last week.

“They got anxious. They created good chances and they hurried the thing. But that is not the biggest crime in the world.

“We are not talking about ability here. We are talking about experience and in that sense is starting to stack up. That is why we have to play them.”

Ferguson’s youngsters, who have beaten Wolverhampton Wanderers and Barnsley in this season’s competition, will face in-form Spurs for a place in the two-legged semi-final. The competition holders will put out a side made up of younger and fringe players.

Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck, Rafael da Silva, Darron Gibson and Gabriel Obertan will almost certainly start the match, with a 60,000 crowd expected for the Londoners’ visit. Ferguson will choose between Ben Foster and Tomasz Kuszczak in goal, while Michael Owen, Nani and Ji-Sung Park will play some part in the match.

While the match offers another test in the young players’ progression, Ferguson is keen to keep up an unbeaten run in the competition that stretches back more than two years.

Despite the second-string look to United’s probable side tomorrow night, Darren Fletcher insists that the club takes the competition seriously. However, Fletcher, United’s in-form Scottish midfielder, is unlikely to take part in the match.

“We don’t dismiss the Carling Cup at all. It has been an important competition for the younger players and lads on the fringes of the squad for many years,” Fletcher said.

“Last year the lads went all the way to the final and won it. What a great achievement that was.

“For people like Ben Foster, Jonny Evans and Darron Gibson to win their first trophy provided them invaluable experience which will stay with them for the rest of their careers.

“We have so many games these players are an integral part of the squad.

“It is vitally important for them to go through the experiences they are getting just now because ultimately, it is going to make them better players.”

Spurs, seeking revenge for defeat by United in last season’s final, will be without Ledley King – who is predictably injured – and manager Harry Redknapp is unlikely to risk Jonathan Woodgate. Mexican teenager Giovanni dos Santos may play after returning from injury.

Some Turkish delight, please

September 13, 2009 Tags: , Opinion No comments

Reality check for Manchester United’s opponents; three pretenders hoping to emulate the Red Devils’ domestic and European success. Spurs downed in pretty emphatic fashion, next up the Turkish champions Besiktas, followed by the small matter of the Manchester derby next weekend.

United’s magnificent performance saw Spurs’ bubble burst and the home side’s long-suffering fans silenced . White Hart Lane’s faithful thought Harry Redknapp could bring them Champions League football. Saturday’s match served to highlight the gap that Spurs must bridge.

United, on the other hand, showed precisely what’s required by Spurs to gatecrash the elite of English football. The never-say-die attitude to come from a goal down, the ‘grab-any-opportunity’ mentality to score a goal and even the let-them-think-they-have-a-chance sucker-punch when having a man sent off.

There were some outstanding individual performances on Saturday. Patrice Evra stood out for an excellent man-marking job on the in-form Aaron Lennon. The Frenchman won the battle of the midgets, by showing Lennon onto his left foot, and reducing the Spurs’ winger to launching aimless crosses with his weaker foot.

Ryan Giggs was impeccable and tireless, as was Anderson, whose dynamic play was finally rewarded with a goal. The Brazilian must push on from here and cement a place in the middle of the park alongside Darren Fletcher, who needs to share his vitamin pills with Michael Carrick. The former Spurs man has looked out of sorts so far this season, and on this form he’ll be sitting on the bench more often.

Rio Ferdinand’s return could not have been better-timed with a packed fixture list to come. Led by the England defender, United’s back four dealt well with Spurs’ tactic of launching the ball towards the freak Peter Crouch.

Don’t forget Ben Foster, whose fingertip save from Jermaine Jenas’ shot was the second time in as many matches that the ‘keeper has pulled off a stop Peter Schmeichel would have been proud of.

The pairing of Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov caused plenty of problems for the Spurs defence. The Bulgarian dropped deep, which gave him plenty of time and space to dictate play. Ledley “jelly legs” King just couldn’t keep up with Berbatov’s off-the-ball movement. It was another understated display from Berbatov, who does not get the recognition he deserves simply because he is expected to bang in goals for fun.

Best of all, the way Rooney took his goal was pure quality. You can’t teach people to play football like that. Either you’re born with a football brain, or you’re not – like Emile Heskey.

Sir Alex has options in midfield, which not only keeps his opponents guessing but heats up the competition for places. That’s what it takes to get Anderson and Nani performing week in, week out.

If United was good against Tottenham, then a stellar performance is required against Besiktas on Tuesday night. It’s no easy task.

Fans at the BJK İnönü Stadium, which has the most beautiful view of any stadium in the world according to the legend Pelé, make English hooligans look like kindergarten kids. Not that United players should plan any sightseeing, with bottles and stones thrown raining down from the stands. Apparently it’s a customary request for an autograph! United can expect to face a welcome about as warm as Emmanuel Adebayor at an Arsenal supporters’ fan club night.

Despite winning a domestic league and cup double last season, Besiktas has started the season poorly, with only one win in five matches. Galatasaray thumped Mustafa Denizli’s men 3-0  over the weekend. Besiktas will surely be looking to salvage some pride against the Red Devils.

The Black Eagles’ forward line, led by Nihat Kahveci the former Villarreal striker – whose injury proneness rivals Louis Saha – and the Brazilian Bobo has found goals hard to come by so far this season. However, the ridiculously named Bobo has an impressive record since joining the club in 2006, scoring 74 goals in roughly twice as many matches.

On the United side, Antonio Valencia will hope to make his European debut, in what will be a good test of the Ecuadorian’s ability to step up to the next level.

United must seize the impetus with an early goal, which would silence the mad-men in the stands and calm the players’ nerves. The Turks are likely to adopt a counter-attacking 4-5-1 formation, aiming to overload the midfield and play a pressing game. This is where Rooney and Berbatov need to produce that extra bit of magic to find space in the final third.

In a tense affair, United will clip the Black Eagles’ wings by the odd goal or two. Then, it’s time for Sir Alex’s men to focus on bringing Manchester City back down to Earth with the mother of all reality checks!

Fergie out-thinks hapless Harry

September 13, 2009 Tags: , Matches 11 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will leave London tomorrow morning for United’s Champions League fixture at Besiktas, fresh from his side’s best performance of the season to date. The visitors beat a resurgent Spurs at a canter after Sir Alex out thought and his team out passed White Hart Lane’s pretenders to the top four. Following victory over Arsenal last time out, United’s machine is now moving through the gears.

Some pundits had felt the home side started favourites, after four Premier League wins in a row.

Indeed, those pundits were proven right but only for the 47 seconds it took for Jermain Defoe to put the home side ahead with a high quality overhead. Momentarily Tottenham’s fans forgot about that penalty in United’s 5 – 2 win last season. United hadn’t read the same script as the experts though and despite going down to the early strike, dominated possession during an entertaining first half.

If Ryan Giggs has turned back the clock over the past year, then he also reminded any fans who had forgotten about his dead ball skills in the 25th minute. The departed Cristiano Ronaldo may have taken 90% of free kicks over the past few years but there’s now a new kid in town now. Giggs buried a wonderful strike into the top corner of Carlo Cudicini’s goal.

Anderson’s first competitive goal of his 78-game United career came just 15 minutes later following Paul Scholes’ wayward shot. Sir Alex talked in pre-season of Anderson’s new goalscoring responsibilities. That’s one of at least 10 required for the campaign. Aside from the goal the Brazilian also put in his best performance of the season, using the ball wisely and offering protection to the back four. A welcome return to form.

Then came Scholes’ controversial red card. The ginger midfielder had pulled the strings all day, teaching Wilson Palacios and Tom Huddlestone in the Spurs midfield a lesson in the art. But Scholes just can’t resist a tackle, as is his habit of the last 15 years. If the midfielder’s first yellow was fully deserved after yet another rash challenge, then the second was unfortunate. Sliding into a genuine 50/50 challenge, Scholes and Huddlestone came together at largely the same moment. The Spurs man grabbed his face, Andre Mariner fell for it, and the result was Scholes’ ninth red card of his United career.

From there Spurs should have posed far more of a threat but United were outstanding on the day. With the excellent Dimitar Berbatov sacrificed for the cause, Wayne Rooney ran his socks off alone up front and Michael Carrick dictated the tempo in the middle of the park. United’s third was almost inevitable given the visitors’ continued dominance.

It was a victory born not only in the  excellence of United’s players at White Hart Lane but a system that was as right for the opponents as the toothless 4-5-1 was wrong against Arsenal. Deploying Rooney on the shoulders of the Spurs central defence and Berbatov ‘in-the-hole’, United were able to gain both possession and territorial advantage. Such was Berbatov’s excellence for 60 minutes that his substitution was particularly unfair on the Bulgarian. Rooney meanwhile was truly magnificent.

Tottenham on the other hand were a tactical mess, with Robbie Keane pushed wide left and the celebrated attacking football of Harry Redknapp’s teams reduced to aimless balls pumped long at Peter Crounch. Meat and drink for Nemanja Vidic and the returning Rio Ferdinand. Top of the league? You’re having a laugh sang the away support. How right they were.

On this form, United has nothing to worry about in Turkey.