Happy New Year to all who may read this, and here is hoping for a prosperous 2013. Manchester United kicked off the new year with a trip to the DW Stadium to take on Wigan, hoping to build on the win and clean sheet taken against West Brom.
Sir Alex Ferguson would not have wanted a repeat of last season’s clash, a 1-0 loss that proved pivotal in the title race. David De Gea started in goal, with Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans in front of him. Rafael Da Silva and Patrice Evra were at right and left back respectively. Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley paired up in midfield with Ryan Giggs and Ashley Young out on the wings. Up front, Robin Van Persie and Javier Hernandez spearheaded the attack.
The match started with United looking to control proceedings, and Wigan looking dangerous on the break. The hosts had a plan and stuck to it well, initially looking comfortable in midfield as neither side produced anything clear cut, with both goalkeepers largely untested. Hernandez had the ball in the net after 10 minutes, but his celebrations were cut short, correctly as he was found to be offside.
With just under 35 minutes played, a breakthrough. After a period of pressure, Patrice Evra fired in a shot that Al-Habsi could only parry into the path of Hernandez, who made no mistake in finishing to give his side a 0-1 lead. United began to look more confident and only minutes later, the lead was doubled.
Robin Van Persie beat his defender inside, and curled in a fine shot with his right foot into the top corner. 0-2 to United. The ball was in the net again just before half time, but once again Hernandez was adjudged to be offside.
The second half began with United sitting back slightly as Wigan took possession. However, the visitors appeared comfortable, and with just over an hour played, Robin Van Persie took a free kick, coming off the wall, with Javier Hernandez ready to pounce again as he finished well from just inside the area off the rebound. 0-3 to the visitors.
With a cushion for a lead, Sir Alex took the chance to make changes, taking Ferdinand and Carrick out of the game, replaced by Kagawa and Smalling. Soon after, Ashley Young looked uncomfortable and was replaced by Danny Welbeck. Wigan continued to battle, refusing to give up and looked to finish the game brightly, notably, with Gomez going close with a free kick after Smalling was booked for a foul.
However, United were to have the last word in the game, as Welbeck took advantage of poor defending to square the ball for Van Persie, giving him an easy finish to double his tally and give United a 0-4 victory.
With another 3 points in after a busy festive period, and a second successive clean sheet, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Giving players an early finish
With United in relatively good control of the game at 0-3, the chance to give Carrick and Ferdinand an early finish was taken, as well as providing Kagawa some extra time on the pitch as he reaches full fitness. At this time of the season, taking such opportunities is vital, particularly with key players, and allowing others to remain fresh. United have rarely been as commanding as they had been on Saturday and it allowed a little rotation.
2) Javier Hernandez – a constant menace
There have been occasions, rather fairly, that have questioned Hernandez’s place as a starter as well as his use when United are not getting forward and as such meant he goes missing. This season, in stark contrast to last season, he has found the net regularly. At the DW Stadium, he combined with Van Persie well and grabbed a brace in the process, fully justifying his start and proving a constant menace. The value of having a poacher with his ability in the box is not to be missed.
3) Patrice Evra and Ryan Giggs active down the left
With Valencia dropped and Nani still out, Young took place on the right, and meant that Ryan Giggs stood in on the left, an area in which he earned his reputation and had many of his best performances. Both he and Evra got forward well down that side as United tried using width to their advantage against the way Wigan had set up.
Of course, we are all aware of Evra’s penchant for getting forward and he has done that well this season. To expect Giggs to perform down the wing as he used to would be asking too much these days, but credit must be given for his effectiveness there on Saturday.
4) Consecutive clean sheets a boost
With United leaking goals regularly this season, it is almost a shock to the system for fans to be treated to successive clean sheets. Occasionally, Wigan threatened but United found themselves comfortable for much of the game, with David De Gea largely untroubled. Despite the lack of challenge, the ability to maintain a clean sheet is important as the season goes on. The boost to goal difference as well as building confidence in the back line is not to be underestimated.
5) A potentially awkward game seen through
Saturday’s game marked a festive period in which 10 points were taken from a potential 12, with this game having the potential to be far more difficult than it ended up being. Roberto Martinez has a side playing good football, and initially, their game plan was well implemented as they were happy passing the ball in midfield and did not allow United to get forward often. Even when the visitors had a comfortable lead, the threat remained, particularly on the break.
Last season showed it could be a difficult place to visit and once the first goal was gained United looked more dangerous and pushed for more as they went up a gear. It was a strong team performance that had the two strikers wasting little. A commanding performance in all.