Christmas day has been and gone. An exercise in over-eating and general indulgence is followed by a day where the build up to New Year’s day begins and more recently, Boxing Day sales start. Most importantly, the standard Boxing Day round of fixtures also takes place, a time when Christmas could be made that little bit more enjoyable or add a slight disappointment, depending on the team being followed. For a 3 o’clock kick off, Manchester United squared off against plucky underdogs in Wigan Athletic, fresh off draws against both Chelsea and Liverpool. Could they do it a third time and exceed expectations in taking points from unlikely situations? United named a different side from recent games. Lindegaard was given another start in goal, with a makeshift defense currently suffering from a range of injuries. Although the blow to the face the previous game was deemed to be less serious than though, Phil Jones was not in the side, as Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra were the only established defenders within the back four. Darron Gibson was given a rare start, Ji-Sung Park also finding a place in the line up as well as Antonio Valencia after impressing in recent games. Up front, Dimitar Berbatov was given a starting place with Javier Hernandez as Rooney took a place on the bench. The match got off to a positive start for United when Park was picked out to place the ball past Ali Al Habsi into the top right corner to give a 1 goal lead. United continued to create chances, and although perhaps the better of the sides, Wigan themselves were not without their moments, but their day took a turn for the worse when Sammons was deemed to have elbowed Carrick and shown a straight red card. Soon after on 41 minutes, United made it 2 when Gibson found Berbatov who stood his ground to drill a shot past the Wigan ‘keeper to extend the lead before half time. Evans was replaced at half time by Fryers, leaving Evra to move into central defense and providing United with a combination in their back four that had never come together before. Nevertheless, with the extra man advantage United continued to control the game, and on 58 minutes, it was 3-0 when the influential Valencia passed to Berbatov, who turned and smashed home in a slick move that displayed a degree of confidence. Valencia’s performance was rewarded with a strong finish just inside the box bolted to the bottom left corner to give his side a 4-0 lead. Minutes later, the final nail in the coffin was hammered home when Park was judged to have been fouled and the resulting penalty was calmly dispatched by Berbatov to give him his hat trick and United a 5-0 victory. On a day when rivals City played out a goalless draw with West Brom, fans will have been happy to see their side take the 3 points as well as taking the opportunity to close the gap on goal difference and with that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) The red card – poor decision that changed the game
In all it could be argued the referee had a poor game, getting certain decisions wrong such as penalty appeals that did not alter the outcome of the game significantly. However, the one decision that probably did, was the one to send off Sammons for what was deemed to be an elbow on Carrick. Yes, there was contact to the face, but it was clear that there was no malicious intent and Carrick was not even hurt that much, certainly his reaction could not have been described as dramatic. It may be fair to say that most inside the stadium were somewhat baffled by it and with a man down inside the first half, it was always going to be up hill from there for Wigan. The result may well have stayed the same, but one cannot deny that the balance of the game worsened due to it.
2) Berbatov – hat trick hero, justified start
After months where the Bulgarian striker could barely get a run in the team and was mainly restricted to substitute appearances, Dimitar Berbatov seized the opportunity to impress in his starting role and came away with a hat trick. There are some who will argue that in this game that was already one sided due to the sending off that this proves little and that it does not justify a regular starting place for him. However, one cannot doub the boost to the confidence that it will have done. Not only that but one has to be impressed by the manner in which he took his goals. The second in particular was a swift turn and strong finish that ought to be applauded. Even the penalty was the mark of a man keen to impress with an almost arrogant quality about it.
3) Lindegaard – Clean sheet with unfamiliar back four
With the back four ravaged by injury, United were in the unusual situation of employing Carrick at centre back with Evra as partner after Evans went off. With such injuries to the defensive members of the squad it could have spelled disaster, but United came out unscathed, maintaining a clean sheet in the process. Although having little to do, I felt it necessary to emphasise Lindegaard’s run of clean sheets during his sporadic performances in the first team this season. Some may point out his starting against Wigan may be a sign of a shift to Sir Alex Ferguson employing him as first choice goalkeeper, but with it being clear that Lindegaard will get his fair share of games, that is unlikely to be the case and David De Gea will be given the time and patience for the time-being.
4) Antonio Valencia – great finish for an excellent performance
Until recently, fans had not seen much of Valencia this season, kept out o the side by injury and the partnership of Nani and Young on the wings, some may have wondered if he would become surplus to requirements at Old Trafford. However, after a couple of performances that drew criticism, he has emerged in the last few games to produce a string of influential performances. providing good service on the right wing and linking up well with Nani when played together. Against Wigan, he exerted an almost quiet influence, going about his play that had it’s effects, such as assisting in Berbatov’s second goal and capping off his excellent game with a strong finish to provide United with their fourth. One hopes that this continues into the new year for the Ecuadorian and that this starts a run of scoring more goals, a quality cited as lacking from his game.
5) Even on points, goal difference closing down
Some may have been surprised to see Rooney and Macheda brought on with United cruising and within easy reach of victory. However, with a large goal difference between them and the league leaders, it was vital that United seized the chance to make up for it and reduce the deficit somewhat. With Manchester City drawing a blank against West Brom and United moving level on points, the 5-0 victory allowed them to make up cnsiderable ground in that aspect. It was important to capitalise on their shortcomings and Sir Alex Ferguson will be extremely pleased that they made the most of the opportunity that presented itself on Monday, rarely wasting chances in maximising the scoring potential on the day.