With the weather cold enough to make even fat Newcastle fans keep their tops on it was scarf and hat time- although definitely not snood- at Old Trafford as United took on Sunderland.
Boxing Day fixtures are usually happy affairs for United with the Sir Alex Ferguson’s men taking all three points in the last seven games they’ve played on December 26th.
In fact if we’re going to go all stat-crazy then it’s worth mentioning United have won a staggering 15 of their last 16 boxing day games, so Christmas hangovers are a thing of the past at Old Trafford.
With the in-form Danny Welbeck and midfield driving force Lee Cattermole both unavailable for the Mackems it was a game, if we’re honest you’d always fancy United to win.
United have been inspired at Old Trafford this season, and went into the game on the back of five straight home wins in the EPL, while Sunderland had only won one game on the road- the awesome 3-0 demolition of Chelsea.
With Nani and Scholes out, Fergie went with a midfield of Giggs, Anderson, Carrick and Park with Rooney and Berbatov up front. The back five of VDS, Rafael, Vidic, Rio and Evra is without doubt United’s strongest and Sunderland were always going to struggle to penetrate it.
So what did we learn from United’s comfortable 2-0 victory over Sunderland, other than it’s now so cold even Mickey Phelan has stopped wearing shorts and Anton Ferdinand must have nightmares about trips to Old Trafford?
1. Anderson is the greatest player in the history of world football. Okay so I may be doing a bit of Gareth Bale type over-exaggerating but the stocky Brazilian is fast becoming the name on every United fans lips.
The term ‘barnstorming performance’ was in danger of becoming the exclusive property of Darren Fletcher but such has been Anderson’s displays of late, that he’s now overtaken Fletcher as the one midfielder who has to start. Against Sunderland he picked up where he left off against Arsenal and Blackburn- dominating the midfield with tough tackles, sublime passes and driving runs. If a shot that hit the bar had of gone in then it would have been a 10/10 performance rather than a 9/10 one.
The looking the one way and passing another which he first treated Old Trafford to in the 4-0 demolition of Arsenal a few years ago, was used with aplomb to set up United’s second goal and is now number one in the list of tricks being tried in the playgrounds of Manchester. Probably.
If Anderson carries on like this we’ll have to change the dog’s name from Wazza to Ando, as like Chicharito at the beginning of the season, Anderson is getting everyone at Old Trafford buzzing and could well hold the key to a 19th title.
2. Rafael. Do I need to say more? It seems every time I write one of these articles, Rafael’s greatness is mentioned and it’s happened again. The other Brazilian in United’s line-up is having the season we all knew he could do as unlike some United youngsters, nearly every fan I spoke to at the start of the season believed he was good enough to make it. Going forward Rafael is Evra-esque and his defensive game, while not perfect has come on in spades.
When Patrice Evra is in danger of being the second best full back on the pitch then it’s quite possible I’ve died and gone to heaven.
Rafael is now United’s right back, no matter how much I love Wes Brown, the time for change is over. Rafael Da Silva is the one.
Poor Phillip Bardsley must’ve felt like he’d entered the seventh circle of hell as both Park and Rafael gave the poor Salfordian no respite down United’s right side.
When he went down and signalled for the physio, 70 odd thousand fans held their breath as he’s one player United need not just in the busy Christmas period but for the rest of the season.
3. Park is going to be missed. Remember the energy of the 2007/08 side when the likes of Rooney, a certain Argentinean and Owen Hargreaves covered so much of the pitch it was often as though United had an extra man? Watching Ji Sung Park giving his all over the last few weeks has reminded me of that time- especially when he’s backed up by Rafael. Park has recovered from his World Cup hangover to become one of United’s most impressive players. It’s not just energy the South Korean brings but also important goals, and an underrated high level of skill. Park has the ability to get himself out of trouble with quick feet when needed and is always an option for someone looking for a red shirt to pass to.
Against Sunderland Park was his usual energetic self whose link up play with Rooney and Berbatov was excellent. He may not have the skill of a Nani or the pace of a Valencia but that shouldn’t detract from the fact he’s still a world class player.
The seven games without Park, United potentially face when he goes to the Aldi Cup will be a lot more difficult without him in the side.
4. Giggs will -still- tear you apart. Someone needs to check Ryan Giggs’s birth certificate- and no I’m not talking about the drivel City fans used to sing. The reason I think it’s time to check the Welshman’s date of birth is that there’s simply no way he can be 36 years old. Giggs has been one of United’s best players this season and was at his awe-inspiring best against Sunderland.
Running at defenders, using his wide range of skills and picking out sumptuous passes, Giggs was at his very best and gave everyone a reminder of just how much he’s going to be missed when he finally retires.
If Giggs carries on in this vein though, he’ll probably be hitting his best form in 2019 when he’s 45 so there’s no need to panic just yet.
5. Berbatov and Rooney are becoming unstoppable. Although Rooney may only have one league goal this season, there’s no denying that he’s hitting top form performance wise. Wazza looks like the player that helped Ronaldo bag over 40 goals in a season, dropping deep when needs be, leading the line when called upon and showing the sort of selflessness you’d associate with Santa Claus. Had a chip that went just wide of Craig Gordon’s goal ended up in the back of the net then Rooney would have been grabbing all the headlines after the Sunderland game.
As it is an assist for Berbatov’s first goal and an all round excellent performance had many fans and pundits alike noting that Rooney’s back to his best and it’s only a matter of time before he starts scoring.
If I was either Ben Foster or Scott Carson, I’d be very, very worried. As for his strike partner despite being dropped for the Arsenal game, top scorer Berbatov isn’t prone to sulking or tantrum throwing like some of his counterparts across the city. The Bulgarian showed that given the right service and encouragement he’s as deadly as any in the game. Rooney may still be United’s talisman but with 13 league goals, Berbatov is the man most defences are struggling to cope with.