WHO’D be Carlos Tevez?
Alex Ferguson spoke this week of his “torment” at having to leave the striker out of his starting line-up but the Argentine’s prospects of a return look even bleaker after Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney continued their outstanding scoring runs as Manchester United dismissed an insipid Celtic to move one step closer to qualification to the Champions League knockout stages.
Two goals from Berbatov — both arguably offside — took the Bulgarian’s tally to five in four games while Rooney struck his ninth in seven games for club and country to seal a victory that should have been even more emphatic. United now have seven points and, unless Celtic manager Gordon Strachan somehow manages to conjure a remarkable transformation of his side, they should reach the decisive 10 point mark when the two side’s meet in the return fixture in Scotland in two weeks’ time.
While United were at times irresistible despite rarely having to move out of second gear, Celtic were poor and did little to disprove Gordon Strachan’s pre-match claim that his side were like the “seven dwarves” compared to Ferguson’s more intimidating team. The much-anticipated cross-border skirmish failed to materialise and the English Premier League champions won at a canter.
Ferguson’s pre-match suggestion that Cristiano Ronaldo was feeling the strain following his return from ankle surgery and would be rested for this game proved to be nothing more than another example of the Scot’s gift for kidology with the Portuguese duly included in the starting line-up. Instead, it was Tevez who missed out, named once again amongst the subs and given a further reminder that, at this stage of the season at least, he is viewed as back-up to Rooney and Berbatov, throwing further doubt over United’s willingness to meet the £30m asking price demanded by, MIS, the company that holds the Argentine’s registration, to make his two-year loan a permanent move.
United started disjointedly but slowly that feeling disappeared as the home side acquired a more convincing swagger, inspired largely by the impressive Nani and the growing influence of Rooney. Indeed, Nani’s contribution was particularly important to Ferguson’s side given the relatively indifferent display of his countryman Ronaldo. Questions about Ronaldo’s long-term commitment to his current employers following his high-profile dalliance with Real Madrid this summer were brought into fresh focus last weekend when the winger showed little emotion after scoring against West Bromwich Albion and while this performance could never be described as apathetic, it was but a shadow of the thrilling displays last season that have made player favourite to win both the European and World footballer of the year awards.
Still, it was Ronaldo’s left-foot shot that signalled the start of the period of United pressure that culminated in Berbatov’s first goal, a instinctive flick from the edge of the six-yard box after John O’Shea had initially headed Nani’s corner against Gary Caldwell before scooping the rebound back into the danger zone. The Celtic defence protested that Berbatov was standing in an offside position, just as they would following the Bulgarian’s second after the break, and in both cases television replays suggested the visitors had a case, but the overall balance of the game made it hard to accept the visitors had been the victims of an injustice.
The opening goal immediately gave Celtic the look of a beaten side, a view that was reinforced by Berbatov’s second that came six minutes after the break when keeper Artur Boruc failed to hold Ronaldo’s free-kick, instead spilling the ball in front of his own goal and into the path of the United striker who tapped home the decisive goal. From that point it was simply a question of how many as the visitors capitulated. Rooney beat Boruc three minutes later but his effort was ruled out, incorrectly, for offside, before moments later he shot over when the Celtic goal was gaping.
Rooney eventually got his just reward in the 77th minute when he capped the best move of the match, a move that started with Van der Sar rolling the ball out to Fletcher and eventually arrowed at the forward’s feet via a neat intervention from Tevez, with a devastating finish that epitomised the difference between the two sides.
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