Man Utd 2 West Ham 0
Newly-crowned FIFPro world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo offered an immediate reply to Sir Alex Ferguson’s challenge to score 25 goals this season with a first-half double to sink West Ham.
Ronaldo took his tally for the campaign to five, first profiting from Nani’s precise cross before tapping home from two yards, an effort that owed everything to the genius of Dimitar Berbatov.
Manchester United could have had more, with Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney both going close.
But after Saturday’s slip-up at Everton, the three points were all Sir Alex Ferguson wanted as his side look to keep current pacesetters Liverpool in view.
In leaving out Rooney, Ferguson was omitting a man, one visit to Everton apart, at the top of his game.
The need to give Tevez a chance after sitting on the sidelines for virtually a month, was obvious. Some fans, though, questioned why Rooney was the man sacrificed. Others wonder why Berbatov was bought at all given last year’s strikeforce proved to be a devastating combination at home and abroad.
Berbatov has tried to answer the doubters with a flurry of goals and eye-catching assists. But none came close to his contribution after half an hour.
James Collins must have thought he was in control as he shadowed Berbatov to the by-line as the pair chased Anderson’s pass.
But the young Wales international was in for a shock. With a pirouette any ballet dancer would have been proud of, Berbatov turned, rolled the ball beyond Collins and was gone, hugging the white line before presenting Ronaldo with a tap-in. Even Collins must have felt like applauding.
Having faced Arsenal at Upton Park on Sunday, Gianfranco Zola is quickly discovering management is not quite as easy as he found being a player.
In his programme notes, Sir Alex Ferguson hailed the Italian maestro as his favourite overseas star, some accolade given the brilliance that has walked through Old Trafford’s doors alone.
If only Zola had someone with his instinctive brain and silky touch at West Ham.
Almost daily his players are being linked with moves elsewhere.
England defender Matthew Upson is among that number, deservedly so judging by the way he threw his body in the way of so many United chances.
Berbatov, Ronaldo and star man Nani were all denied by the centre-half. There was nothing Upson could do to deny Ronaldo his opener though, the Portugal superstar crashing home from eight yards after one of Nani’s pinpoint crosses had rolled into his path.
Tevez was eager to make an impression and he would have scored if his header from Patrice Evra’s cross had been a foot either side of Robert Green rather than straight at him.
Any faint hopes of a West Ham revival were dealt a grievous blow just before the break when Valon Behrami went down in agony with no-one near him. The immediate fear was a serious knee injury and the Swiss was in obvious pain as he left the field on a stretcher.
Zola might have been getting some much-needed advice as he strolled down the touchline in earnest conversation with Ferguson as the pair made their way to the dugouts.
But the second period just brought more worries for the newly-installed Hammers chief.
Tevez might have had a penalty when he was hauled down by Herita Ilunga before Nani’s rushed his shot when Berbatov laid a neat pass and smashed it over.
The introduction of Rooney and, for only his third appearance of the season, Michael Carrick merely illustrated the difference in standards Zola must now try to overcome.
Rooney had gone for the bald look again and a delicate chip straight after his arrival might have shaved the crossbar if Robert Green had not touched it over.
There was nothing delicate about Rooney’s next effort, a thunderous shot from 30 yards that Green was forced to beat away.
The keeper might have expected to work harder when Patrice Evra set up Ronaldo but with a hat-trick beckoning, the winger’s shot was disappointing.
Not as disappointing as the volley Craig Bellamy fired into the stands though which must have made Zola wish he could pull his boots back on.