The game that follows a Champion’s League tie is always one that has the potential for a slip up, particularly towards the end of the season where those that started may be showing signs of fatigue, and can often lead to a rude awakening on return to domestic affairs.
And with Saturday afternoon’s game against Fulham had the possibility of being such a tie.
It was fortunate then that Sir Alex Ferguson seems to be getting many of his players back at the right time, able to make eight changes to the team that started against Chelsea, with only Vidic, Evra and Valencia retaining their places. Despite this the team that was sent out would be considered a strong one. One cannot complain when Nani, Berbatov , Anderson and Scholes all have a starting place.
And so it was that the term “business as usual” could be applied, something that may have been lacking at times in United’s season, able to get the result required without moving out of 2nd or 3rd gear, particularly in the second half. With that, United found themselves 10 points clear at the summit of the Premier League, with Arsenal possessing 2 games in hand and as such, here are five things one may take away from the game.
1) Nani’s omission from the Player of the Year nominations is a travesty
It took many by surprise that a player so influential in United’s place at the top of the league was left out from the PFA nominations. For someone with 14 assists and 9 goals to his name, it could be argued that his record this season statistically meant he had bettered many of the players who had their names shortlisted for the award. Combined with the fact both Van Der Sar and Berbatov, the league’s top scorer, had been left out made for some raised eye brows.
No matter, as Nani went to work at displaying why he should not have been left out for the main award, inspiring United victory in being influential in their attacking play. Instrumental in both goals, the first involving good footwork to get past Fulham’s defence and playing a neat one-two with Anderson to pass for Berbatov to slot home an easy finish. Replays suggested the Bulgarian striker was offside, although United will not have cared. The second also involved strong play from the Portuguese winger on the left, even if the assist was not intentional, running on to a pass down the left side he ran into the box to see his shot deflected off Hughes leaving the simplest of finishes for Antonio Valencia. Throughout the game Nani was lively, and certainly deserved man of the match for his efforts.
2) Nani and Valencia can play together
With Nani having flourished on the right wing in Valencia’s absence, and considering the fact Valencia is a right winger in the more traditional sense, one could be forgiven for having a few reservations about whether or not they could work together as a partnership on either flank. However, Saturday’s game helped to provide evidence that those fears may be unfounded, with the lively Nani giving an example of just how well he has developed of late as a more complete footballer and with Valencia providing his usual mix of strong work ethic with good skill, made for a troublesome pairing that Fulham struggled to cope with.
With both wingers providing pace and menace on either flank, the most threat potential in United’s attack came from both of these players. It made for encouraging signs, even if United were not able to capitalise on this further in the second half, seemingly willing to settle for the 2-0 scoreline they had managed and wanting to see the game through.
Continued on page two.