Thursday, December 15, 2005

Manchester United 4 - 0 Wigan Athletic

Who can explain the vagaries of football?

3 hours ago, cries were ringing out for Fergie's head, Ferdinand's head, Fletcher's head, and the Glazers' entire bodies. Fears of a "crisis", a "decline", a "shift in power", abounded. Resignation reigned. Most people I know who are Man Utd supporters shook their heads sadly at the thought of this next match, and my betting-addict pals stayed away from it.

Who could expect that 3 hours later, Man Utd thrashes Wigan 4 - 0 and win by their largest goal margin this season, Fergie is feted again, Rio Ferdinand *gasp* is revered as the hero who opened the floodgates, and Darren Fletcher makes an assist? Certainly not me.

I admit I approached this match with a heavy heart. Though I rubbished all the stupid claims of an Old Trafford crisis, I did not really believe that this match could be easily won. Wigan may have lost their last 4 matches, but the fixture computer had played a cruel joke on them by giving them Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool in a row. Not even Man Utd could have gone through these fixtures unscathed. Now, they had to face a Man Utd who might just be determined enough to use Wigan as a stepping stone to their resurgence. But I somehow had a bad feeling that Man Utd wouldn't have an easy time of it.

The lineup for Man Utd gave me a pleasant surprise, as Wes Brown was paired with Ferdinand in central defence instead of bumbling Silvestre. Fergie must have had an epiphany during the night.

The difference was obvious almost immediately. Without Silvestre around Ferdinand seemed more assured (well at least he wouldn't need to cover Silvestre as well) and the communication between both him and Brown was much better. I've always thought Wes Brown was a good defender who unfortunately was born under the same stars as Chris Kirkland and Jamie Redknapp. Let's hope he stays fit because I sure as hell don't want Silvestre back there.

The match started in lively enough fashion, but still there weren't any nail-biting moments for half an hour. Then, of all people, Rio Ferdinand opened the scoring by ghosting into the box unmarked and heading in from a Ryan Giggs corner. His wild celebrations bespoke relief and defiance; he'd answered his critics in the best possible way.

From then on, it was as if the floodgates were opened. Barely 5 minutes later Wayne Rooney made it 2 - 0 with a lovely bit of play. Collecting a perfect pass from Fletcher just outside the box, he ran into 3 Wigan bodies and promptly tripped over, only to bounce back up, regain control of the ball immediately, skip past the sea of bodies, and flash a tightly-angled shot past the hapless Michael Pollitt - who, it must be said, had been the only person to heroically keep the scoreline to just 2.

Old Trafford erupted. But the best was yet to be (to borrow Jaywalk's old school motto).

In the 55th minute Ruud van Nistelrooy, who had collected the ball in the middle of the park, looked up to see Rooney in front of him, onside, and running towards goal, with acres of space all around and the Wigan defenders missing. With a tricky inside pass to elude his marker, van Nistelrooy pushed the ball on to Rooney, who put on one of his famous spurts of lung-bursting acceleration and cheekily lobbed the ball over an advancing Pollitt straight into goal. It was classic Rooney.

Ruud van Nistelrooy put the icing on the cake in the 70th minute with a sweet penalty, after being brought down by the commendable Pollitt. By then the victory conclusion was foregone, though Wigan made it hard for Man Utd to keep a clean sheet.

In the last 5 minutes, and especially the 2 minutes of injury time, Wigan threw everything they had at the Manchester United goal, only to be thwarted in succession by Edwin van der Sar, Alan Smith, Park Ji-Sung, and Phil Bardsley (a substitute for Ferdinand). But Man Utd held resolute (as they sometimes can; witness against Chelsea) to claim all 3 points, a clean sheet, and their biggest win of the season.

Wigan verdict: Paul Jewell has done an excellent job with a newly-promoted team everyone predicted would be struggling in the bottom 3 this season. Though it is now 5 losses on the trot for them, there is no shame in losing to the Big Five. Furthermore, they have collected points from most of the "weaker" teams - something Man Utd couldn't do. Now that their crazy list of fixtures are over, they can breathe easier and are likely to challenge for a UEFA Cup slot. A Champions League place is not out of reach either; anyone remembers Everton? Hard work, determination, and willingness to play entertaining attacking football instead of just sitting back and defending should take Wigan far.

Player to watch: Need I even say it? Wayne Rooney, of course. His solo effort and trademark lob were joys to watch. It is no wonder the fate of his country and club rests on his 20-year-old shoulders. God, at 20 I was struggling with lectures and tutorials. Mike Pollitt is another player to look out for, a fine performance throughout from him, and if I recall he was also unlucky to be on the losing side against Liverpool after some truly great saves cancelled out his own goal.

Man Utd verdict: Keep Wes Brown in defence and uninjured, hope that this sort of flawless play happens more often, try to get on a (very) long winning streak, pray that Chelsea slips up, and we should have the domestic treble in the bag. Is that asking for a lot?

Miscellaneous observation: Phil Bardsley is really really hot!


At 9:34 AM, December 15, 2005, Blogger Edmund said...

Your preview and review better than New Paper.....

At 5:48 PM, December 15, 2005, Blogger Merenwen said...

edmund: Heh heh thanks. We think so too! =D Now it'll be just great if the New Paper comes knocking on my door to ask me to write for them!

At 8:35 PM, December 15, 2005, Blogger Edmund said...

Shall we all be Arsenal fan for a day this weekend?

At 11:25 PM, December 15, 2005, Blogger Merenwen said...

edmund: I feel a little disloyal... but ok lah. Even if Arsenal win they won't overtake Man Utd, and we get closer to Chelsea. So just for this weekend, come on Gooners! =D

At 9:23 AM, December 16, 2005, Blogger Edmund said...

Yeah....damn ironic for me to say this too.......Go Gunners Goal!!!


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