The international break. For some, a time to watch the national side in their attempts to progress to the next major international tournament. For others, a two week break in the schedule that must be endured before club football returns to the rotation. The one problem that fans universally worry about, is their star players picking up injuries and ruling them out of games on their return to their clubs. Over the last week, Manchester United had such a scare, with Robin Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa both emerging as doubts for Saturday’s afternoon kick off against Wigan.
Fortunately, such fears were allayed and it became known that both would be available. However, neither player would start, perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson keeping one eye on the coming games. As a result, the team lined up with Anders Lindegaard continuing in goal in place of De Gea, with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand partnered in front of him. At right back, was Rafael Da Silva and on the left, was debutant Alexander Buttner. The midfield four was made up of Nani, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs. Finally, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez were given an opportunity to star up front.
The game kicked off with an early chance at a goal as Danny Welbeck was felled, arguably rather softly, by Al Habsi in the box and was duly awarded a penalty. The resultant spot kick, taken by Hernandez, was softly taken and saved by Al Habsi, who guessed the right way. United continued, dominating play early on, building up play and looking for avenues in which to threaten. Buttner was able to run down the left and attempt crosses, without much success in the opening exchanges. Welbeck had a strong chance to break the deadlock in under 20 minutes, missing just wide from a pass from Nani.
In fact, Welbeck found himself involved regularly seeing a number of chances in the first half, but was unable to convert as Wigan began to find their way into the game, looking to get forward and threaten Lindegaard. Much of the play was still going the way of the home side, though, until late in the half when the visitors found themselves with a couple of chances to take an unexpected lead. It was not to be, as they went in at half time, all square at 0-0, with some concerns that it could be a frustrating afternoon for the Old Trafford faithful.
The second half began, and with just over 5 minutes played, the breakthrough. Nani played in a ball from the right, that caused a scramble in the box, with Al Habsi only able to palm the ball with Paul Scholes lying in wait to tap home and give his side a 1-0 lead.
Falling behind gave the Lactics something of a kick start as they looked to find their way back into the game, but after the hour mark it was 2-0, as Javier Hernandez was played on side to hit home Buttner’s intended shot, to give his side a more comfortable lead. Moments later, the provider turned scorer as Buttner when on a jinxing run, finding his way through the Wigan defences to score at the most acute of angles with the ball coming off the goalkeeper’s hand. 3-0 and in control.
Van Persie, Nick Powell and Jonny Evans were all given run outs, and with under 10 minutes remaining, there was time for one more goal, with a poorly cleared ball finding it’s way to debutant Powell, who fired home from outside the area. 4-0 and so it ended as such, a great confidence boost for the home side going into the Champion’s League game on Wednesday.
With that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Danny Welbeck – avoid the diving, focus on scoring
Danny Welbeck had an impressive game alongside Hernandez up front for United. He was involved in much of the play and came across many chances. He certainly could have found himself with a couple of goals on the day, although it was not to be. However, it would also be fair to say that his efforts on the day may have been clouded by the penalty incident early in the game. As he broke through on the outskirts of the box, Al Habsi came charging out for him, but stopped short of committing to any sort of tackle or sticking his hand out, getting close to Welbeck. At best, one could argue there was the slightest of contact, at worst there simply was none, certainly never enough to bring him down, but he tumbled over and was promptly awarded the spot kick, which Hernandez subsequently failed to convert.
It would be fair to question why Al Habsi was ever charging out so far to challenge Welbeck when it looked as though it may be going out anyway, and by doing so he gave the referee reason to blow the whistle. That said, Welbeck risks a similar backlash to Ashley Young’s actions last season and would be better served staying on his feet unless really challenged, lest he develop a reputation and suffers as a result.
2) Some defensive cover at last
United fans will have been pleased to see the familiar pairing of Ferdinand and Vidic continuing in front of the goalkeeper this weekend. With the ‘keeper situation effectively unresolved as yet, it will have been reassuring to see some consistency to the back line developing. It will have been pleasing to see Jonny Evans also make an appearance. Given the injury list of defenders within the squad at present, there is some good in seeing an extra name on the bench to turn to. This also applies to the left back spot.
For years now, Patrice Evra has been a stalwart at left back. It is hard to think of anyone who has played more games than him in recent seasons. Lately he has come in for criticism, perhaps unfairly given the regularity with which he plays, leading Sir Alex Ferguson into a staunch defence of him. However, providing cover and competition for his spot in the form of Buttner can only be healthy and for the benefit of the team.
3) Buttner’s impressive debut
There was plenty of points of intrigue in Buttner’s debut on Saturday. He impressed fans with many darting runs down the left hand side, found himself involved in attacks often and used his pace well. To cap it off, he provided the ball with which Hernandez scored, albeit unintentionally, before scoring himself with a brave run into the box to score with a little help from the ‘keeper.
It was certainly a strong first impression. Should Evra be worried? Is he a ready made replacement for the Frenchman?
In truth, probably not. Yet. It is clear that Buttner was bought with the idea that he could well be the full time replacement for Evra further down the line, and from his debut, he looks to have some of the qualities to make it. But to proclaim his genius at this stage would be wildly jumping the gun. Evra’s experience is not to be dismissed and with cover at his spot, I believe we will see him benefit from the respite, perhaps ending up more rejuvenated each game with a lighter workload.
Does Buttner have potential? Of course. Does he have what it takes? We have to wait and see. But we have not seen the last of Evra by any stretch of the imagination.
4) “Old heroes for new ones”
There was an interesting contrast on the pitch on Saturday. Veterans such as Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, in their final years of football, still producing quality moments and delighting the fans. Old heroes, still being just that at the top of the game. On the other end of things, new heroes may emerge. Although it may not be for such a number of years, Robin Van Persie has already given plenty for fans to smile about. Danny Welbeck has emerged with many qualities and has the potential to go further, Hernandez has also made himself well liked at Old Trafford. Buttner on his debut made an impression, scoring and being particularly active on the left.
Perhaps the most impressive of these, on the day, came from Nick Powell, the youngster signed from Crewe over the Summer. Even though only a substitute, his effort was perhaps the most memorable against Wigan, doing what many shout when Scholes is just outside the area on the ball.
He took a shot, fired into the corner from outside the area to finish the game 4-0 and a fine way to introduce himself to the fans. Clearly, he is a bright talent, and fans will be interested to see how he develops in the coming years.
5) The season is young, there is room to improve
Only four games in, and there have been some struggles in getting results so far for Ferguson’s side. It is easy to forget that the season is young, and in September there is still plenty to improve upon and push on from. A convincing win, and importantly, a clean sheet against Wigan will have been a good confidence booster to the side, particularly as Martinez’s side are capable of causing problems.
Of course, during games, it is all too easy to forget that the season has only just started, with many more games to come, and that we are not in mid-season forever. Fans want the side to gel as quickly as possible, so that slip ups are less likely to occur, and any potential early damage can be minimised.
It would be fair to say, that United will get better as the weeks go by and the side begins to settle more and the defensive casualties return to the side. There is a feeling of greater strength in depth otherwise, at the moment, particularly up front. It is likely there will always be some worries about the midfield, and it remains to be seen what happens with this during the year.
One thing is for sure, there is plenty to look forward to.