Utd: Berbatov 2, 27, 47, 62, 70, Park 23, Nani 48
Rovers: Samba 82
In keeping with the week’s sporting events, Manchester United almost ended up with a cricket score against Blackburn on a brisk Saturday afternoon, thrashing the hapless Rovers 7-1.
The conditions seemed to suit Dimitar Berbatov perfectly, as the frosty striker managed to equal the record number of individual goals in a Premier League match by hitting the net five times. He could have broken the record but for a decent stop in the 88th minute from a beleaguered Paul Robinson, who must have wondered where the rest of his team had been hiding all afternoon.
United signalled their intent from the second minute, with Berbatov notching his first of the afternoon after good work from Nani and Wayne Rooney. The Croxteth-born striker seems to be edging back towards form and fitness; in particular, a flurry of one-twos with Berbatov almost provided the crowd with one of the moves of the season, but Rovers’ defence eventually mopped up the chance. Rooney also had a hand in the second, feeding Ji-Sung Park after good link-up play before the South Korean deftly chipped an oncoming Robinson after 22 minutes.
If the first two strikes were down to United’s hunger to go top after Arsenal’s impressive win at Villa Park earlier in the day, then the third was simply down to shocking defending; Pascal Chimbonda presented Berbatov with an early Christmas present, the striker running on to the wing back’s blind back-pass and finishing with real confidence just four minutes later.
The half almost got worse for Rovers, with El-Hadji Diouf lucky not to see red for a two-footed lunge on Patrice Evra. In truth, Blackburn looked happy just to get to half time, but worse was in store after the break.
Whatever Sam Allardyce said (or bawled) at his players during the break, it didn’t seem to sink in, as within three minutes of the restart, Rovers were a further two goals behind. The fourth strike came from a blistering breakaway started and finished by the Bulgarian, who swept Nani’s pull-back high into the net, while the Portuguese winger curled in another just 72 seconds later following a great through-ball from a resurgent Anderson.
This was perhaps the Brazilian’s finest all-round performance since his move from Porto in 2007, and while he has endured a difficult time at Old Trafford, the sight of a leaner Anderson bursting through the centre at will and spraying passes across the pitch will have left Sir Alex Ferguson delighted.
Bebratov was hungry for more goals after recent criticism of his barren spell in front of goal following the hat-trick against Liverpool back in September, and duly added his fourth, and United’s sixth, just after the hour with a scrappy finish following a great surge from Rafael da Silva, who is surely cementing his role as first-choice right back.
With a fast-flowing team behind him, Berbatov was in no mood to stop, and after being thwarted in trying to set up Rooney for his first goal in open play since March, he simply lashed the blocked pass home himself, raising five gloved fingers to ram home his five-star performance.
Whilst Blackburn were admittedly abject, United cut through them time after time, and at 7-0, it wouldn’t have been beyond reason to expect the first ever PL double-digit victory.
Gabriel Obertan, who is becoming a familiar face to United fans after an injury-plagued start to his United career, could and should have made it eight, but once again Robinson made a great stop when one-on-one.
To the eventual credit of the Blackburn players, they held strong after this, and even managed to score a consolation goal. After seeing his initial header bounce back off the bar, Christopher Samba easily beat Jonny Evans in the air from the resultant bombardment to head home debutant Josh Morris‘ cross with eight minutes remaining. This was no easy place for a 19 year-old to make hist first league appearance, but Morris acquitted himself well, and was the one chink of light that Rovers can take away from the drubbing.
As United improved their goal difference and a certain Bulgarian bolstered his confidence, Ferguson will surely be looking to the unforgiving Tyneside weather to make things difficult for Chelsea tomorrow afternoon – that, or an aerial assault from Andy Carroll on Chelsea’s makeshift central defence.
Utd: van der Sar 7, Rafael 8, Ferdinand 7.5, Vidic 7.5, Evra 7, Nani 9, Carrick 7, Anderson 8.5, Park8, Rooney 8, Berbatov 10
Subs: Obertan 7, Evans 6
Blackburn: Robinson 7, Salgado 3, Nelsen 3.5, Samba 5, Chimbonda 2, Emerton 5, Jones 4.5, Dunn 5, Goulon 5, Diouf 4, Roberts 5
Subs: Liganzi 5, Hoilett 5, Morris 6.5