Image courtesy of The Telegraph
The short story is that United re-discovered its form, with Rooney and Owen providing the offensive fireworks. Ben Foster and Nemanja Vidic both returned and combined to keep the Hammers from getting on the score sheet. A respectable effort from the Red Devils, but one that brought some interesting issues re: the squad to the forefront.
Sure it was mid-table West Ham, but this was a massive game. As Sir Alex put it, United "had to win." Coming off the disappointing loss at Everton, United needed to put together a solid win to right the ship and put the club back on Chelsea's heels. With the win, United are back to within a point of the leaders (although Abramovich's Mercenaries have a game in hand). The pressure is back on Chelsea and given the off-the-field issues surrounding the club, hopefully, it'll be too much pressure to handle.
As for United, Foster's recall was an interesting call by the boss. Ever since he deputized for Edwin, Foster has failed to impress and got knocked behind Kuszczak in the pecking order, which led to widespread speculation that Foster was on his way out. With Van der Sar signing another one year deal, I'm surprised Foster got another shot at first team football, especially in a critical game. Perhaps the boss hasn't given up on the Englishman yet, but he didn't do himself any favors today. His performance was sub-par at best and his sloppy play was nearly another major embarrassment. The kid has talent, but does he have the nerve to be consistent for the World's Greatest Club?
One of the obvious stories is Rio's back flaring up again. England's new captain (who would be my choice to succeed Gary Neville once Gaz and Giggs are retired; if he was healthy, that is) tweaked his back again and Sir Alex has ruled him out for the Carling Cup final against Villa. Realistically, I'd expect Rio to be out for another solid period of time. With Vidic back (and playing well, at least today) combined with a quality game by Brown, I wouldn't expect the boss to rush Rio back, not with a healthy Evans on the bench still.
The other? The loss of Anderson early in the match, who (at least through the 19 minutes he played) looked promising in his return to first team action. Even the boss has conceded that the injury "doesn't look great." With Gibson having a very solid game, Valencia playing one of his better matches as a Red Devil (showing why Sir Alex splashed some cash to replace Ronaldo), I wouldn't expect Anderson to return this season (on a side note regarding midfielders, Scholes flashed some of his old brilliance with a picturesque ball to set up Owen). That's good news for Gibson, who really is positioning himself to break into the regular rotation next season. Ji-sung Park came in to replace our injured Brazilian and he did himself well. Nothing spectacular, but his play with Evra is solid and he's a fantastic squad player.
I was surprised (but very pleased) to see Sir Alex run Berbatov out again with Rooney. The silky smooth Bulgarian played a very good match and it's encouraging to see the boss allow our two front men to gel down the crucial stretch (with the Carling Cup final this Sunday and important European and domestic matches not-too-far down the road).
All-in-all, a solid effort for United. Rooney found his form after a down day at Goodison Park and showed why he's on everyone's short-list for individual honors (it should be noted that he could very well eclipse Ronaldo's 42 goal haul from the 2007-2008 season). The Hammers are a respectable side, but they simply don't have the horses to run with United. A very important three points and confidence boost going into Sunday's chance to bring more silverware home to the Theatre of Dreams.
The best part about Sunday's match? It's being followed with a league match on the following Saturday, giving our guys a real chance to rest. Best of all, it's against low-sitting Wolves, albeit on the road. If United really have the class to push Chelsea to the end, a second-tier United squad should be able to dispatch Wolves on the road (especially with the return fixture against AC Milan looming four short days after Wolves). Wolves will be hungry to pick up points to avoid the drop zone, but I would expect United (with the likes of Kuszczak, Evans, the da Silva twins, Gibson, etc. getting a run-out) to put away Wolves to the effect of 1-0 or 2-1.
And for the fun of it, here's John Terry crying:
Image courtesy of ABC.net