Date: 24th January 2011 at 11:45am
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Yet another lacklustre display from the Bulgarian

United’s  5-0 destruction of a sub-standard Birmingham team was exactly the performance you’d expect from an unbeaten side on top of the Premier League.

At times it seemed like a practice match for Sir Alex’s men as they out-passed, out-played, out-muscled and generally out-classed a team that looked as though they were counting the minutes till full-time right from the off.

Birmingham’s capitulation came as no real surprise as it was obvious from the starting line-ups of both teams only one side had any real chance of winning.

In fact you have to wonder what poor little Jordon Mutch had done to Alex McCleish to make the Brum boss throw the youngster in at the very deep end for his Premier League debut.

With Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov leading the United attack, not to mention the likes of Nani, Ryan Giggs and Anderson all starting for United, it was destined to be a very long day for the Birmingham defence.

The game was hardly full of revelations for United fans, the only real surprise arguably being how United had failed to score more than one goal in any of their previous EPL meetings with the Midlanders.

To be fair to Birmingham though, with Scott Dann recently injured and Alex McCleish having one eye on the looming Carling Cup semi-final with West Ham, there’s hardly going to be an inquest into why they were so poor.

Let’s not take anything away from United though, this season has shown there are no more ‘bankers’ -as my accumulator often reminds me- so a drubbing of any opponent should be treated with the praise it deserves.

So what exactly can we discern from such a one-sided rout, other than Keith Fahey has just booked his place on the latest football bloopers DVD?

1. Berbatov is the new Ronaldo. Before you start screaming the obvious -many- differences between the two, allow me to elucidate. When Ronnie was at his best it was more often than not against the lesser teams -where there was no one better at destroying a mediocre defence.

This season Berbatov has proven that if he’s up against opposition that aren’t at the top of their game- he’ll give them an afternoon to ensure they won’t be sky plussing MOTD.

Berbatov’s hat-tick against the Brummies underlined how the Bulgarian can almost score at will against the lesser teams. The likes of Birmingham, Blackburn and the worst Liverpool team in recent memory have all seen how deadly Berbatov can be. Of Berbatov’s 17 League goals this season, most of them have come against the so-called ‘lesser’ teams. This isn’t a criticism of Berba, after all United are yet to play Chelsea, he was on the bench for the Arsenal game, and forced to plough a lone furrow upfront at Eastlands. It’s just reminiscent of a certain CR7 -as his mum used to call him- the way Berbatov annihilates certain teams- it almost evokes a modicum of sympathy for them. Almost.

2. Chris Smalling is looking like a bargain. I’ve mentioned Smalling in these articles before and I’ve no doubt I will again as the former Fulham man is beginning to look like the biggest steal since, well United bought Chicharito. Having dealt with the lacklustre Birmingham attack, Smalling was also able to showcase his passing ability and without meaning to sound over-excited it was nothing short of a master class. Whether it was short or long range Smalling picked out his team mates with the confidence of Paul Scholes and gave me the hope that United’s long-term future is far from the problem-filled test some members of the media have suggested.

It may have been against a poor side but let’s not take anything for granted, if Smalling continues on his current trajectory, then we may well be looking at Rio’s heir for both club and country.

3. United’s squad is by far the Premiership’s best. People may lament Sir Alex’s failure to pursue a Van Der Vaart or an Ozil, there may even be those still pining after a Benzema. However, when your team is missing the likes of Rafael, Ferdinand, Scholes, Fletcher, Chicharito and Valencia and can still win 5-0 then something’s got to be right.

If United can find a way to rest or miss, the same important players and still beat the lesser teams away from home, then the title race could well  be over regardless of the efforts of City, Chelsea and Arsenal.

4. He’s Luis Carlos Almeida da Cunha- he’ll do what he wants. Mere mortals would arguably change tact after sending over umpteen shots into row Z, however Nani is no mere mortal. Some of Nani’s shots may have been bad enough to make Anderson blush but that didn’t stop the Premier League’s most useful wideman from remembering the old ‘if at first you don’t succeed…’ adage.

While many may have been getting fed up of watching the winger’s wild shots visit every corner of the stadium, personally I found his persistence both admirable and indicative of just how important he is to the team. He wanted a goal, no matter what. He got one.
The game was wrapped up as soon as Berbatov opened the scoring, everyone- including the Birmingham players knew that. Nani’s decision to use the game as a bit of shooting practice wasn’t going to cost United any points and ultimately proved fruitful.
Nani may be a livewire he may be a bit mental, but he’s also one of the most naturally gifted players in the world and I for one am prepared to accept his idiosyncratic tendencies.

5. As long as the goals are going in, who cares? While Mr. Da Cunha was setting a new record for the most shots in a game – previously held by Frank Lampard at either of the last two World Cups -Wayne Rooney was chasing Nani’s assist record. Just as he did against Blackburn our Wazza was instrumental in most of United’s goals. He may have wished for a goal- and by rights really should have scored with a second half header that was a shocking miss- but as long as the team are scoring and United are winning- just like in 2008 then does it really matter who scores? No.
Last season Berbatov was United Marmite while Rooney couldn’t stop scoring yet we ultimately failed to win that coveted 19th title. This time round Berbatov’s leading the way while Rooney’s having his most barren season ever- yet the fundamental point is, United are sitting on top of the table and both strikers are playing well.
We want our trophy back and who scores the goals to get it us, is irrelevant.

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