After the dramatics of the previous week, in which the roller coaster ride of a match against Manchester City ended with Manchester United progressing to the next round of the FA Cup, it was time to return to the business of the Premier League, and the small matter of avoiding three consecutive defeats for the first time in over a decade. This week saw Sir Alex Ferguson’s side host Bolton Wanderers, without the services of Gary Cahill who is on the cusp of a move to Chelsea. With league leaders City not playing until Monday, it was vital that United got back to winnings ways to maintain the pressure at the top of the table. Team selection saw Lindegaard take place in goal, another suggestion that he is becoming the number one choice at Old Trafford, with Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans central defensive partners, with the returning Rafael Da Silva and Patrice Evra either side of them. In midfield, Michael Carrick and post-retirement Paul Scholes were given starts with Valencia and Nani occupying the wings, whilst Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck led from the front. From the outset United sought to gain control of proceedings, going on the offensive and going forward positively with some creative play leading to chances without gaining the early breakthrough. An abundance of corners and slick play in the opening exchanges could not muster a goal and the danger may well have been being caught on the break by Coyle’s men. Carrick’s superb passing was emphasised by a pinpoint ball to set up Welbeck in the box, only to be denied by the extremely effective Bogdan. Bolton’s goalkeeper had been in action for much of the afternoon, providing a showcase of his capabilities in defending his goal. After 20 minutes, United were awarded a penalty when Welbeck was fouled by Zat Knight when through on goal. Knight was merely booked for what many agree to be a professional foul for which a red should have been seen but alas he was handed a reprieve. Rooney stepped up to take it, striking the ball with some power to Bogdan’s right at approximately knee height, which Bolton’s keeper guessed right getting both hands to the ball to parry it away. A superb save, keeping the scores level. It was not until half time when United were able to make their possession count when Nani played a one-two with Rooney, who then saw his cross blocked, only for Rooney to play the ball across for none other than Paul Scholes, on his return to Old Trafford, to turn and slot home, sending the home crowd into rapture and give the fans the moment they wanted. 1-0 on the stroke of half time. Potential to build on the lead? The second half continued in the same vein as the first, with United looking to press, but Bolton would also show their threat, the occasional warning not to get complacent. Half an hour later, United made their efforts count to double their lead, with Rooney playing in Welbeck who fought to beat the defender to it and stretch for the ball to finish low past Bogdan. Unfortunately he injured himself in the process, one hopes that it is not serious and he will not be missing for long. The best was saved for last, when Giggs passed to Carricks in the centre of midfield, 20 yards out, with the midfielder taking one touch before calmly finishing low into the corner at the encouragement of the fans to give his side the 3-0 victory and the return to winning ways they had wanted. With United next facing Arsenal, a convincing victory will be a much welcome confidence boost in what looks to be a challenging set of upcoming games for the Champions. With that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Valencia – highly effective, man of the match
It was tempting to consider Paul Scholes the man of the match for this game, particularly for sentimental reasons, but for me, Valencia was United’s most influential player. It seemed that much of United’s play going forward went through Antonio Valencia. The right winger has found himself employed for much of the season at right back, and his recent return back in his more attacking position has been rewarded with highly effective performances that have capped something of a resurgence in form for the Ecuadorian. His crosses often find a man or appear as though they should connect with someone in the box such are their quality. Throughout the afternoon he gave Rickett’s problems down the wing, not afraid to take on his man and supplying the forwards with something useful on multiple occasions. A fantastic effort.
2) Paul Scoles scored a goal – Emotional scenes
It seemed to be what the script called for, United’s own “Henry Moment”, Scholes having come out of retirement grabbing the first goal on his return to Old Trafford. Given his time out from the game, one could not help but be impressed by the veteran midfielder. Early on signs of rust did show, a few misplaced passes the evidence of his lack of match practise, but to see him turn and finish coolly to give his side the lead is a scene many fans were all too happy to see and provided some form of riposte to the criticism received from some forms of the media during the week. In truth, it is unlikely he will be handed a start against Arsenal, but as he continues to progress down the road to fitness, fans will hope to see his influence shine through as the season progresses.
3) Michael Carrick’s play, rewarded with a goal
Michael Carrick barely set a foot wrong all afternoon, his passes displayed accuracy and controlled proceedings quite comfortably from midfield against a struggling Bolton side. Some of his play exuded class, an early chance for Welbeck from Carrick’s low pass a notable example, and his goal capped off a strong showing from him, a cool finish from 20 yards out low into the corner.
4) Rafael returns – hope for a spell without injury
Saturday saw Rafael Da Silva return to the starting line up after spells with injury, notably a shoulder problem keeping him out for much of the season so far. The young Brazilian was impressive on his return, clearing off the line to deny Bolton a goal and having the odd moment of threat going forward as well. One issue with him and his brother Fabio has been the fact they are prone to injuries keeping them out, meaning they have not broken into the side quite in the way that there potential might expect. Undoubtedly the young twins are highly talented and show it on many occasions, but one hopes their injury-prone nature does not hinder their progress too much.
5) Wayne Rooney – Two assists, but was the penalty miss a great save or a poor shot?
Wayne Rooney seemed to have something of a mixed day regarding his fortunes. Assisting two goals would certainly be something to be happy about, but the striker could have had a goal himself by way of a penalty and could not convert a chance when presented with a good opportunity later on. The penalty miss brought his penalty taking into question, and whether or not duties should be moved on given his fairly high rate of misses, another example being last week against City, where the rebound spared his blushes. In this case though, was it simply a case of good goalkeeping rather than poor placement? Admittedly at first I considered it to be poorly taken, considering the height of the ball and the way in which Bogdan was able to get both hands to the ball. Indeed the ball was at a height that makes life easier for the goalkeeper, but the ball was placed quite far into the corner and the goalkeeper took the risk of moving slightly earlier to allow him to move over to the ball. It was a good save, but the penalty was not awful either. What was perhaps more perplexing was the lack of a red card for Zat Knight in which he clearly denied a goal scoring opportunity but was only shown a yellow card. Although it mattered little to the final result, consistency regarding these decisions ought to be expected.