Quite simply, Manchester United destroyed Birmingham City this afternoon in their 5-0 victory at Old Trafford. Dimitar Berbatov poached himself his 3rd hat-trick of the season, as the Bulgarian now leads the Premier League with 17 league goals on the season. Ryan Giggs and Nani joined in on the scoring as well, as each were able to strike a goal. With Manchester City's loss at Villa Park, United are alone at the top of the table, with games in hand on their title-contending rivals. A brilliant display today, one that might only be rivaled this season by the 7-1 thrashing of Blackburn Rovers earlier this season.
Opening lineups and tactics:
United set out in a '4-4-2' shape. Berbatov paired up with Wayne Rooney up front, however, Rooney was drifting deep and wide for the ball when United were in possession. Nani played high up the pitch and wide as the right winger. Giggs played very tucked in centrally, and was almost a 3rd central midfielder. Michael Carrick once again sat in front of the back four, and played as a deep lying playmaker. Anderson played a box to box role in the central midfield. John O'Shea, filling in for the suspended Rafael, bombed forward into the attack all match long from from his right-back position. Patrice Evra provided width in the attack on the left side with select runs forward from his left-back spot.
Birmingham came out in a '4-4-1-1.' Matt Derbyshire was the lone striker. Alexander Hleb was assigned to roam between the lines in support of Derbyshire, however, he tracked back so often to help defensively that he was essentially a 3rd central midfielder. Barry Ferguson and Jordan Mutch manned the center of the pitch, with Ferguson playing a bit more as a holding midfielder. David Bentley played high and wide right. Keith Fahey was drifting centrally from his position out wide on the left. Stephen Carr didn't get forward as often as he typically does, and for the most part stuck to his defensive duties at right-back. David Murphy was getting forward into the attack on the left side when Birmingham were in possession. Liam Ridgewell moved from left-back to center-back for this match as Scott Dann suffered a season-ending injury. Ben Foster spent much of the afternoon picking up the ball from the back of the net.
More after the jump...
* What a start from United! From the opening whistle, they had Birmingham on their heels. It only took Berbatov 95 seconds to bag his first goal. A fantastic flick by O'Shea on the corner-kick to find the opportunistic Berba.
* It was evident early that Birmingham left-back Murphy was completely outclassed by Nani. The Portuguese winger completely dominated him, and Murphy's only contribution at times was joining the attack on that left side. The only thing stopping Nani was himself, as he was inconsistent with the numerous crosses and finishing chances he had.
* John O'Shea was doing his best Rafael impression by bombing forward into the attack on the right side. He partnered well with Nani on the right flank. Because Fahey was tucking in centrally for Birmingham, O'Shea had acres of space to push forward into and he took full advantage.
* Giggs was tucked in so far centrally, that he basically was a 3rd central midfielder. He did a brilliant job linking up with Rooney and Berbatov before he was subbed off. Once again, he did a good job pairing up with Evra and finding him on overlapping runs. The 37 year old was dangerous as ever today.
* Evra didn't get forward as often as he typically does, but when he did, he provided width in that attack on the left side of the pitch.
* When Darron Gibson subbed in for Carrick in the 25th minute, he played a little higher up the pitch from where Carrick was positioned. Gibson was more in a box to box role and generally played level with and to the right of Anderson. Anderson began to track back just a bit deeper to compensate.
* Rooney was a creator today. He was dropping deep and linking play, and had some superb passes. Here's a chalkboard of his passing today. He played Nani through often on the right and linked well with Berba and Giggs.
* Hleb played very deep to help out in defense and to search for the ball. Birmingham's '4-4-1-1' essentially turned into a '4-5-1' and he was more of an advanced central midfielder playing in front of two central holding midfielders.
* On Berbatov's 2nd goal, and on the Giggs' goal, Berba got in on the tackle or intercepted on both plays... this ignited the attack on those goals. He often gets criticized for being lazy, but both were good hustle plays that resulted in goals. He deserves credit for that today.
* Summary of the half... a complete butt-whooping by United. It could have been 5-0 at half.
* A few changes to start the half: Cameron Jerome on for Derbyshire, as the latter had no success as the lone frontman. Jerome provides a better physical presence up top as a lone striker, but Vidic destroyed him too. Either Fabio or Rafael came on for Evra, whoever it was, it was in a Fabio shirt. Seemingly, Evra came off just for rest as United play at Blackpool in 3 days. No formation changes.
* Vidic and Smalling were rarely tested but cleaned up when needed. Vidic had a rare gaffe that almost led to a Birmingham goal. Smalling's positioning was improved from his last match, as he wasn't getting dragged out of position today. His poise on the ball is impressive, and he really passes well out of the back.
* Nani had so many crosses and chances at goal, that he was both brilliant and frustrating numerous times. Rooney blew an assist for Nani after a terrific cross.
* I love the crowd anticipation at Old Trafford when Gibson gets a half chance from distance.
* Giggs came off at the 55th minute for Michael Owen, likely to rest up for the Blackpool match.
* Rooney's again showed versatility by moving out wide to the left side when Owen came on. Much like Giggs, Rooney was tucking in centrally quite a bit. The twin in the Fabio shirt began to get forward more at this point.
* Not a whole to say about this half... just more United domination and a lot of chances.
* Man of the match - this one is easy... no not David Murphy. Hat-trick hero BERBA!
* Good management by Fergie in getting Evra and Giggs a little rest. I don't expect to see much squad rotation on Tuesday at Blackpool, especially with no league match next weekend. I'm guessing many regulars will rest at Southhampton next Saturday for the FA Cup match there.
* I'm really impressed with Chris Smalling. He really has the potential to eventually take over for Rio Ferdinand. Similar style of players as well. He was much better positionally today than he's been in previous matches.
* Vintage Giggs today.... what a joy that is to watch.
* I would like to Rooney score more goals like everyone else, but I'd also like to hear the pundits recognize him for his versatility and playmaking abilities. He's turned into a creator this season. Berba is flourishing because of this.
* I hope this thrashing of Birmingham shuts some people up for awhile... The ones who keep saying United isn't playing well. Our defense has been brilliant most of the season but the only talking point seems to be the inconsistent attack. We're unbeaten in 22 league matches, we're tied with Arsenal for most goals scored and we've played 1 less match, and we're tied for first in goals against.... How is it that United is struggling???
* An absolutely perfect afternoon, enjoy it everyone!