Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Real Ronaldo

If I went down to the park today and approached a group of young lads playing football and asked them what their opinions were on Ronaldo, then they'd probably be quick to make reference to a certain 26-year-old Portuguese star who currently parades around in the white of Madrid.

"No", I would say. "I mean this guy", as I hold up one of the many undignified pictures (below -right) of 'The Original Ronaldo', sporting a unkept head of hair, his once slender gut bulging over his shorts and looking as far removed from the class act he once was as humanly possible.

As a chorus of distasteful comments sounded out from the youths, I'd say with assured confidence, "This man is the real Ronaldo!".

That's right kids, before the perma-tanned and uber-groomed Ronaldo burst on to scene with Sporting Lisbon and later Manchester United, a player by the same name was already widely regarded as the most lethal finisher in football.

Some, at the time of Ronaldo's ascendancy would have dared to argue that Ronaldo was heir to Pele's throne as the golden boy of Brazilian football, a man who when he called time on his decorated career, would forever be referenced in football folklore as one of the greats.

Perhaps not all of those with that view way back when would feel the same now, but many would certainly have thought it at the time that a Brazilian by the name of Ronaldo could eclipse the great Pele.

Ronaldo Luiz Nazario da Lima enjoyed a prosperous career that spanned 18 years from 1993 in Brazil with Cruziero and ending somewhat ungracefully in 2011 in his native with Corinthians.

He prospered in Holland with PSV, in Spain with Barcelona and Real Madrid and in Italy with Inter and AC Milan, before returning home to play out his remaining days on native soil.

Starting out in Brazil, it was Brazil legend Jairzinho who helped Ronaldo secure a move to Cruziero after the young Brazilian was turned down by his favourite team growing up -Flamengo.

In his first season with Cruziero, a 17-year-old Ronaldo led the Brazilian club to their first Copa do Brasil Championship. On route to the championship Ronaldo proved prolific in front of goal, a hallmark he would continue throughout his career.

In 14 appearances Ronaldo amassed a scoring return of 12 goals in what was to be his one and only season with Cruziero.

Ronaldo's early exploits in Brazil and a surprise inclusion to the Brazil national team for the 1994 World Cup (despite not playing) were enough to pique the interest of Dutch club PSV Eindhoven.

Influenced by Brazil team-mate Romario, who had previously played at PSV, Ronaldo left Brazil for Holland and PSV and in his first season with the Dutch club the young Brazilian marksman scored 30 league goals.

In Ronaldo's second season in Holland much of his time was spent on the treatment table because of a knee injury. Depsite only making 13 appearances in the league, Ronaldo managed to net on twelve occasions.

During his time in Holland, Ronaldo won the Dutch Cup and was the league's top scorer in 1995.

At the beginning of the 1996-1997 season Ronaldo's reputation had gone global and Europe's elite were keeping close tabs on the Brazilian wonderkid.

Barcelona came calling shortly after and PSV were to lose their prized asset in exchange for £16 million, as Ronaldo headed for Camp Nou.

It was at Barcelona under the guardianship of Bobby Robson, where the Brazilian really began to flourish and project himself as a global phenomenon.

At aged 20, after completing his one and only season in Barcelona colours, Ronaldo became the youngest player to win FIFA's World Player of the Year accolade. In the same season, Ronaldo finished runner up for the coverted Ballon D'or honour.

The Brazilian played in Holland with PSV, before moving to Spain with Barcelona. It was at the Nou Camp where Ronaldo made his name. His pace, power and trickery dismantled defences in La Liga.

Ronaldo became a phenomenon in Spain. He simply terrified his opposition and soon comparisons with the great Pele were being made about Barcelona's young Brazilian.
His first stint in Spain was brief. Despite the embaressment of youtube clips dedicated to Ronaldo's time spent at the Nou Camp, Ronaldo spent just one season with the Catalan side.
In Barcelona colours Ronaldo both glided and bustled his way through defences and showed in routine fashion just how prolific he had become. In Holland Ronaldo was resounding success but it was in Barcelona where the Brazilian became one of the most recognised and deadly finishers on the planet.
His reputation swelled in Spain and after just one season at Barcelona Ronaldo moved to Italy with Inter Milan who invested £19 million in the South American sensation.

Regarded as one of the best players of his generation, Ronaldo never won the Champions League.
Ronaldo's career was not without controversy. On numerous occasions, the Brazilian made headlines for the wrong reasons.

Hours before the World Cup Final in 1998 Ronaldo was said to have had a ceasure and rumours spread that Brazil's star man would miss the Final. The event is still shrouded in mystery and speculation. A visually unfit Ronaldo did play in the Final, but Ronaldo looked tired and tormented. He was in no fit state to be playing in a World Cup final and it showed.

He may be better known as The Fat Ronaldo these days, but during his playing days most notably with Barcelona, Inter Milan and Real Madrid the three time World Player of the Year was without doubt the best footballer on the planet, and by quite a margin.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Fickle nature of the English Press.

The English press certainly love to do their work in extremes, don't they!

Relentless they were in publishing every minute detail when Wayne Rooney and England endured a miserable World Cup campaign.

Fastforward a few weeks and the press printed as much as they possibly could (and some...) about Mr. Rooney's much publicized affair and they were duly on hand last weekend to cream in their collective pants for days on end when the England target man 'returned to form' with a stunning overhead volley to sink Manchester City in the Manchster derby.

When they [the press] want to paint a picture of a hero, they paint a god and when they want to paint a villian, they paint the devil.

Okay it was a great goal. I get it. But please, can the press move on to something else. And sharpish!

Indeed people will be talking about that goal for years to come. But I hope we are not to take that literally. The English press have already shown an ability to babble on about the goal, filling inches of columns aplenty and disecting the goal from every possible angle. I'm just waiting for the interview with the piece of turf that flew off Rooney's boot as he took flight...

I am a United fan and I'm already a little bored of the echoes about how it is the greatest goal to have been scored at anytime or anywhere... okay, only a little, but let's move on.

Falling from Grace - Players that Didn't quite live up to their Hype.

This feature picks out players that haven't quite delivered on the initialpromise that surrounded them when there first appeared on the football scene.

The following were dubbed as the 'next big thing' in football onnumerous occasions, some delivered more promise than others, but (in mynon-expert opinion) all fell victim to the hype that surrounded them - ahype they couldn't quite match in actions

Cherno Samba
A trainee at Millwall in the early noughties, Cherno Samba was regarded as the brightest striking talent England had unearthed in decades.
Samba was famously touted out by the Guardian newspaper as "the player to spearhead the England's assault on the 2006 World Cup".

However, when the finals arrived in Germany in 2006 the name Cherno Samba was not even remotely close to making the list of 23 England players heading out for the finals.

Samba's most notable career achievements to date were in Spain with Cadiz FC - who he joined from Millwall - and Malaga, where he scored 18 times in just under forty appearances for both sides.

Samba returned to England after three years in Spain with Plymouth Argyle and Wreham, before leaving for Swedish club FC Haka, where he registered only a solitary goal between the three clubs in 20 appearances.

Once dubbed as a player to spearhead England to greatness, these days a twenty-six-year-old Cherno Samba is plying his trade in Greece with Second Division club Panetolikos.

Freddy Adu
United States of America
At aged 14, American Freddy Adu's debut for DC United in a competitive MLS match created a lot of noise across the pond and the footballing world took notice of the United States golden boy from thereon.

After some success on a personal and collective level in the States, Adu moved to Benfica in what looked to be an attractive move for the teenage prodigy. However, failed trials at Manchester United and unsuccessful loan spells at Monaco, Beleneneses and Aris have seen Adu parted from his parent club far more than the American has been embraced.

Once billed as a rising star in not only American, but World football, Adu has failed to establish himself in Europe and has had to endure routine exile from the club that own his registration.

Ricardo Quaresma
Listing clubs such as Inter Milan, Porto and Chelsea on your resume, perhaps Quaresma could be excused from making a list such as this.

However, former Barcelona trainee Quaresma was destined to become one of the most dangerous attacking midfielders in this business. With the pace and trickery of compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo, Quaresma never delivered on his obvious potential, but signs were certainly evident of an ability to be on par if not greater than the Real Madrid hitman.

Jose Mourinho insisted that during Quaresma's time at Inter Milan, he would would play a big part in the club's success. He didn't. Instead Quaresma was loaned Chelsea and once again he failed to produce the kind of menace that various youtube clips back up in abundance.

Quaresma has since found his level, in Turkey with Besiktas. Although a fair level in football ferms it's a level that few would have predicted Ricardo Quaresma - the trickster - would be playing at during what is supposedly the peak of his career.

Evandro Roncatto
Very few will have actually heard of Brazilian Evandro Roncatto and it is strange to think that a player that once marginally missed out to Cesc Fabregas for the Player of the Tournament honour in the FIFA Under-17 World Championships in 2003 has failed to become a recognised figure in football.

The Ermis Aradippou (Greece) striker started his career in 2003 in his native Brazil with Guarani before moving to Sport Recife in 2006.

In 2007 Roncatto moved to Europe with Portuguese side Beleneneses, but never really found goalscoring form, netting only four times in over fifty appearances.

He stayed in Portugal and in 2009, the former Brazil Under-17 prodigy signed for Pacos de Ferriera where he made just seven appearances without returning a single goal.

Now, a twenty four year old Roncatto plays his football with Ermis Aradippou in Greece whereas the payer who pipped him to the FIFA Silver Ball trophy back in 2003 plys his trade with Arsenal and is being routinely hinted by Spanish giants Barcelona.

Javier Saviola
Like Quaresma above, it may be a little harsh to list a player who has played for Spanish giants Barcelona, Real Madrid in the past and who currently plays for a Benfica side that regularly feature in the latter stages of the Europa League competition.

However, at River Plate in the late nineties Saviola was regarded by many football experts as one of the most cunning and talented finishers in the game.

Nicknamed 'The Rabbit', Saviola scored 45 goals in 86 appearances for River Plate before moving to Spanish giants Barcelona for £15 million in 2001, aged 19.

After initially impressing in Spain, Saviola's form declined and in between 2004-2006 the Argentinian was loaned out to Monaco and Sevilla to reclaim match sharpness.

In 2007, having fallen out of favour at Camp Nou, Saviola moved to Real Madrid. Once again, Saviola failed to replicate the scoring form he had shown in Argentina with River Plate and during his first season at Barcelona, so after two seasons in Madrid the Argentinian moved on once more.

Portuguese club Benfica signed Saviola from Real Madrid and gave the misfiring striker the chance to flourish in Portugal's top flight.

PC game football manager certain held the Argentinian in high esteem. At 17 years of age Saviola was a goal machine for any football simulator fanatic, but in contrast his real life scoring achievements are a world away from the expectation set in simulation.

No more than a year or two ago the Brazilian Kerlon was the most talked about prospect in South America and one of the most sought after teenagers in football.

In 2005 Kerlon was top scorer and named best player at the 2005 South America Under-17 Football Championship.

He moved briefly to Chievo before signing for Inter Milan. Soon after arriving at Inter the man known for the 'Seal Dribble' was subsequently loaned to Ajax where he failed to make an appearance due to injury.

Despite being riddled by injuries over the past 18 months, Kerlon - still only 23 - has failed to deliver on the hype that has surrounded him as a prospering youngster at Cruziero in Brazil.

Prior to the 1998 World Cup a Brazilian by the name Denilson looked to take the tournament by storm, having just signed for Spanish club Real Betis who invested a record £21 million in a player who was to become known as a one-trick pony for the remainder of his career.

In 1998, thanks to Denilson, the step-over technique became a popular showboating trick and prompted a pandemic of skilled and unskilled footballers to weave their feet rapidly over a football without touching it.

Denilson stayed with Betis for sometime before going on a tour of the football compass where the the Brazilian seldom found top gear.

When he first appeared in the yellow and green of Brazil, Denilson looked mesmeric but after a while his trademark showpiece became predictable and it turned out he didn't have many other genuine qualities.

.... I could continue, but I won't. Add in any glaring oversights by leaving a comment below.

What happened to Freddy Adu?

In 2006 at the age of 14, there were early suggestions that Ghanian born American Freddy Adu was destined to become one of the greatest footballers of all time.
The American teenager made his debut for (Washington) DC United on 3rd April 2004 when he became the youngest American sportsman to partake in a professional game since 1887.

During the early stages of Adu's career many criticised the players performances, where pundits and journalists alike suggested that his introduction to Major League Soccer (MLS) had come to soon and that he would benefit from stepping out of the spotlight and develop the skills and maturity needed to deal with the pressures of the MLS.

In December 2006, having blown hot and cold with DC United, Adu moved to Real Salt Lake where he added to his growing reputation as a growing talent in MLS.

After captaining his country - The United States - in the under-20 World Cup in 2007 Adu made an impression on Portuguese side Benfica and in late July 2008, Adu signed a professional contract with the Portuguese side. The fee to take Adu to Benfica is rumoured to be in the region of two million Euros.

With the American 'wonderkid' arriving at Benfica, many football experts questioned the players true ability. Although a dominant force in Portugal, Benfica were by no means an elite footballing force when Adu arrived and suggestions that the Americans technical prowess had been over hyped soon became evident as Adu struggled to adjust to football in Portugal.

Having made just eleven appearances for Benfica, Adu was loaned to French club Monaco with an option to buy at the end of his loan spell. Adu failed to shine once more and Monaco chose to allow the American to return to his parent club after making only a handful of appearances for the French side.

Having returned to Benfica, the Portuguese club could not move him on quick enough with Adu spending further spells with Beleneses and Aris in Portugal and Greece respectively.

During his early career Adu was monitored closely by Manchester United among many other high profile clubs and spent a two week trial with the Lancashire club in 2006, but the American was unable to secure a work permit to play in England and returned to DC United.

Now aged 21, Freddy Adu has already played for seven different clubs where he has failed to deliver on his promise in Portugal, Greece, France and Turkey.

I remember reading articles when Adu first emerged in the United States. The young prodigy was heralded as one of the most gifted footballers the United States had ever seen.

A teenage Freddy Adu was quick, strong, intelligent in possession and was gifted with a sweet left foot that could weave spells on opposing defenders.

In the US, Adu excelled and created a significant volume of noise in regard to his ability. His at the time, was being monitored by some of the most powerful clubs in Europe, where the very best in business wanted to make the first approach to the United State's most recognised player.

Adu was only 14 years old, he had barely experienced top flight football in MLS and yet he was the most talked about soccer player in the league and his reputation was quickly spreading throughout Europe and the rest of the World were also listening in.

All that promise and now the former prodigy finds himself loaned out from parent club Benfica to any club that are willing to take him. Monaco have taken him, he lasted nine matches. Belenenses of Portugal took him on and he lasted three matches. He moved to Greece with Aris in 2010 and he managed only nine matches.

Now in 2011 Adu's latest project is with little known Turkish side Rizespor. Perhaps Turkey can provide him with the necessary platform to finally deliver the goods to match his ailing reputation.

At the young age of 21 is would be ridiculous to write off the Americans career, but perhaps the hype that surrounded him seven years ago when he first stepped out in the football cauldron, the pressure and the heat he was about to be exposed to was too much for the boy to handle.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Old Trafford Waves Goodbye to True Great

Tuesday 9th November 2010 marks a sad day for Manchester United Football Club. History will remember the day when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United reserve team manager and former goal scoring sensation, announced he was to end his 14 year association with the Lancashire club.

The Manchester United favourite has opted to fill the vacant post at former Norwegian club Molde FK, where the Norwegian plied his trade before signing for Manchester United. Solskjaer will see out the remainder of the year with United as Reserve team manager, but will take up his new post in his homeland, when the Norwegian league starts in January 2011.

As a player, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a rare breed. Without possessing rapid pace, Solskjaer still proved prolific in front of goal. Whilst in competition with the likes of Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Louis Saha and the free-scoring Ruud Van Nistelrooy, the popular Norwegian was arguably United's most natural finisher.

Solskjaer received cult status among the United faithful during his time at Old Trafford, and the reputation of the baby faced assassin continued to grow as Solskjaer quickly adapted to the English game. When United fans were moaning about missing out on Alan Shearer, who opted for Newcastle United instead, Solskjaer soon became a crucial alternative.

Known for his natural ability to finish and professional attitude, the man who famously wore the number 20 shirt will no doubt return fond memories among United purists. As an impact substitute or a starter in the United line up, Solskjaer always wore a smile on his face and played the game with a distinct appetite to succeed and improve.

Throughout his time in England, Solskjaer reached amazing heights with United, renowned most notably for his injury time winner at the Nou Camp in 1999. However, Solskjaer's later United career was dogged by injuries and the Norwegian reluctantly but gracefully decided to hang up his boots at the age of 33 in 2007.

During his tenure at Old Trafford, Solskjaer recorded an impressive goal tally of 91 goals in just over 200 appearances. In terms of silverware, Solskjaer leaves England behind with six Premier League titles, two FA Cup winners medals, a Champions League title, Intercontinental Cup win and three Community Shield winners medals to his name.

Not bad for a relatively unknown £1.5 million coup by United manager Sir Alex Ferguson in 1996. Today, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is arguably one of the most popular players to wear the red of United, and deservedly so!

So keen was Sir Alex Ferguson to keep him around after his retirement, the Scotsman appointed Solskjaer as a coach in 2007 and within a year, following a backroom reshuffle, Solskjaer was appointed Reserve team manager.

At the helm of the United reserves, Solskjaer continued to show the same promise he was gifted as a player. So recognised Solskjaer has become, that he will be called home to take on his first taste of first team management in the New Year.

United's loss is Molde's gain, for Solskjaer's professionalism and patience is second to none, and with Sir Alex Ferguson as his mentor, who would bet against the United great from becoming one of the most respected managers in the game.

Whilst it is difficult to see an iconic figure like Solskjaer leave Old Trafford, it's good news for the Norwegian, who is set to take charge of the club where his journey in football began. Hopefully Molde FK will gift Solskjaer the opportunity to become a fine manager, and hopefully his ties to the English game and United in particular, are not lost.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Providing the SPark!

'Reliable Korean spares United's blushes'

In my opinion, a successful team is made up of a number of vital ingredients. In order for a club to compete for the biggest honours in football they have to be consistent, resilient and arguably the most important element of all, to possess not just one but several match winners throughout the squad.

Park Ji Sung proved to be such a match winner in United's narrow 2-1 win against Wolves on Saturday afternoon. The Korean's brace proved decisive as United snatched all three points in the dying moments at Old Trafford, keeping United in hot pursuit of league leaders Chelsea.

Having already opened the scoring earlier in the match which was cancelled out by Sylvan Ebanks-Blake shortly after, Park received the ball on the right deep into added time in the second half. The energetic winger cut inside the Wolves penalty area before rifling home a left foot shot past the Marcus Hannemann at his near post.

The Korean's jinking run looked to be the last role of the dice for a United side that had been outplayed by Wolves, but Park kept his cool and secured an undeserved three points for United at Old Trafford.

Saturdays performance went down as yet another impressive individual display of the devastating impact Park can have, when called upon by the United hierarchy. Park has been in sensational form of late this season, and has become a player that quite often eludes the praise he so rightly deserves.

I've found that a bitter crowd in the Manchester United official forums and a select group of United fans in general, share a view that Park would be better offloaded to a lesser club in England or across Europe. Luckily for United, Sir Alex doesn't share such sentiments.

He's a player that when both Nani and Valencia are deemed fit, will see his first team opportunities limited once again. But, what I admire about Park is his professionalism and pride to be part of Manchester United. He never appears frustrated by his lack of exposure to first team duties, he doesn't drag his hands in protest, he takes to the field and gives his all.

Much like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a renowned super-sub himself, Park bides his time under Sir Alex Ferguson's wing. He's an opportunist who plays with a smile on his face and soaks up the somewhat limited appreciation he receives from the Old Trafford faithful. Sir Alex Ferguson however, is never shy when heaping praise on the South Korean's willingness to dig in and make a menace of himself when selected.

So often Sir Alex Ferguson re-introduces players back into the squad after a long absence and more often than not, they deliver.

Recently Gabriel Obertan reaped the rewards of Ferguson's faith. After an initial and bright introduction to Old Trafford life, Obertan's presence in the United first team faded, but the Frechman has enjoyed a recent re-emmergence in the United ranks. So keen is Ferguson to test the full capacity of his squad and keep his fringe players involved as much as possible.

On Tuesday night in Turkey against Bursaspor, it was Michael Carrick who supplied Darren Fletcher with the perfectly weighted pass to allow the Scotsman to finish. United then had the impetus to get their 3-0 victory underway. The two players who combined for United's opener in Turkey, have had to endure similar circumstances as Park and Obertan at Old Trafford.
Both Carrick and Fletcher have spent long spells watching on as others take centre stage, but they persevere, they continue to fight for their place and in their patience, they are rewarded in kind.

Sir Alex Ferguson has a talent for keeping his fringe players happy, motivated and hungry for honours. Park, like many others are often required to be patient, as they find themselves benched or left out completely, in order to accommodate the wealth of talent that makes up United's squad.

Players like Park Ji Sung understand that their chances in the United first team will be limited, but when called upon, the South Korean is a useful weapon to unleash anytime Ferguson looks to shift focus.

Closing comments....
Say what you want about Park Ji Sung - I know my own father has some harsh words to say about him - but question his ability at your peril. When United need a different dimension, a player that will work his socks off for United's cause, Park delivers with efficiency.
Ferguson should keep hold of Park for as long as possible as far as I'm concerned and in the absence of Antonio Valencia, I hope Park receives the extended run in United's starting XI that he deserves.

With Newcastle United beating Arsenal and Liverpool brushing aside Chelsea on Sunday, Manchester United find themselves in a favourable position. A mere two points now lay between United and Premier League leaders Chelsea and three points separate United from Arsenal in third place.

United are very much back in the thick of the title race and they have United's reliable number thirteen to thank for now.

Friday, 5 November 2010

United 3 Bursaspor 0 - United in cruise control

Manchester United all but assured qualification to the knockout stages of this seasons Champions league with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Turkish Champions Bursaspor on Tuesday night.

United went into the game having beaten the Turkish side by a decisive Nani strike at Old Trafford a fortnight before. United's hosts had proved a tough test in Manchester and much of the same was expected in front of a hostile crowd in Turkey.

Tuesdays visit to the Ataturk stadium gave Sir Alex Ferguson a rare chance to test the depth of his squad. The most notable inclusion in United's starting XI was gifted Frenchman Gabriel Obertan, who started in an advanced role behind Dimitar Berbatov in a new look United attack.

Ferguson's starting XI mixed youth with experience. Chris Smalling lined up alongside Nemanja Vidic instead of Rio Ferdinand, with Brazilian youngster Rafael slotting in at right back and Patrice Evra operated typically on the left side of a four man defence.

In midfield, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher made up a trio in the centre with Obertan on the left and Nani out wide on the right, looking to add to his winner two weeks before. Edwin Van Der Sar was the preferred choice in the United goal and Dimitar Berbatov looked to reclaim his early season goal scoring, playing the lone striker role in United's attack.

Portuguese winger Nani limped off around the twenty-five minute mark with a suspected groin injury and Park Ji Sung came on to replace him shortly after. United fans will be hoping that the in-form star's spell on the sidelines it to be brief.

United tested Bursaspor on several occasions throughout the first half and Paul Scholes had a goal ruled out as he was found to handle the ball before bustling the ball past the host's keeper.

As the whistle blew for half time the game remained level at 0-0. United probed, but Bursaspor had proved resilient in their defensive duties - for 45 minutes, anyway.

Just after the break Darren Fletcher powered home a low shot across the Bursaspor to give United a deserved lead. From the right hand side of the area Fletcher received a cushioned pass from Carrick and struck low and true into the far bottom corner across the helpless keeper. 1-0

From just outside the area, Gabriel Obertan lashed a powerful strike past the keeper and into the roof of the net. 2-0

Scorer of United's first goal, Darren Fletcher exited the game with twenty minutes remaining and on came a raw talent, in the seemingly untested Bebe.

It didn't take the United number thirty-three long to make an impression. In the 78th minute, Bebe latched on to sublime reverse pass from Paul Scholes just inside the box and the Portuguese flyer jabbed the ball past the on-rushing keeper with his right foot. 3-0

United closed out the game with consummate ease and found themselves picking up a fairly straight forward three points, which has just about assured their progress to the last sixteen.

Anyone connected with United will be happy with the victory and will take great interest in the performances of youngsters Bebe, Obertan and Chris Smalling as well as the return to form of Michael Carrick and the continuing efforts of the long serving Park Ji Sung.

In the absence of Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Antonio Valencia and other big name absentees United continue to look a force to be reckoned with. Unbeaten so far this season, United are making their intentions this season clear.

How the players fared -

Van Der Sar - Rarely tested. A deserved clean sheet. 6

Rafael - Looked back to his best, assured on the ball and tough in the tackle. 7

Smalling - another impressive display from the young defender. Dominated at the back and distributed the ball well out of defence. Starting to look the real deal. 7

Vidic - immense at the back as always. Looked untroubled for long periods. 7

Evra - surged forward frequently but rarely picked out a decisive ball into the box. 6

Obertan - responded positively to Fergie's call and used his pace and trickery at every turn. Finished with an explosive strike and looked dangerous all game. 8

Scholes - vintage Scholes display. Distribution was excellent, especially when releasing Bebe for United's third. 7

Carrick - the England star is starting to find his form of old. Used the ball well in midfield and crafted Fletcher's crucial opener.

Fletcher - lashed home United's first and supplied the wings all night. Limped off late on. 7

Nani - Starting positively and looked to terrorise once more, but the in-form star limped off less than half an hour into the game with a groin injury. 6

Berbatov - Looked a shadow of the player that started the season so brightly as the Bulgarian grew frustrated with himself and the players around him. Doesn't always suit the lone striker role and was found isolated and univolved for long periods. 5


Park (Nani) - Came on for Nani less than half an hour into the game and continued to show why Ferguson repays so much faith in the Korean. An energetic and efficient Park display as standard and an assist (Obertan) to his name . 7

Bebe (Fletcher) - adjusted to the tempo of the game quickly and poked home his first United goal soon after coming on. The young Portuguese winger is starting to look like a worthwhile gamble. 7

Fabio (Evra) - Didn't get much of a run out by worked the left hand side well as United closed out he game. 6