The Big Game: Bolton vs. Manchester United
Written by Shaun Wares
This weekend has demonstrated beyond doubt that the Premier League still has a degree of unpredictability. Shocking goalkeeping on the part of Manuel Almunia, questionable refereeing decisions on the part of Stuart Attwell, and a distinctly lacklustre performance by Chelsea combined to present Manchester United with an excellent opportunity to close the gap at the top of the table. My recent prognostications had been quite poor, and hence I would not be committing to any concrete predictions, hence my post match, rather than pre match article. One thing was for sure however, Sir Alex would definitely be going all out for the three points today. With a tough Champions League fixture against Valencia looming, a measured and smart approach was necessary.
The big miss for the Reds today was definitely Rio Ferdinand. Bolton are by nature a robust, physical side, and would be looking to take advantage of his absence. His height, strenght and composure would have been the ideal weapon to combat Davies, Elmander, and of course Zat Knight, who took advantage of a poor aerial challenge from Ferdinand’s replacement, Jonny Evans, and some equally poor positioning from Patrice Evra, to score from Bolton’s first corner.
A typically lively and determined United response saw Nani dance past a host of Bolton defenders to score a fine solo effort. His early season form seem will please United fans, who will be looking to him to finally fulfil his undoubted potential and fill the goal-scoring void left by the departure of Ronaldo. Berbatov again looked dangerous, and United didn’t seem to be missing Ferdinand or Valencia as they looked swift on the break. Petrov was creative and threatening as always for Bolton, and will undoubtedly prove to be an inspired signing for Owen Coyle.
Petrov later popped up with a deflected effort to put Bolton in front again, Elmander selflessly teeing him up on his unfavoured right foot. United however, looked dangerous, with the exception of the below-par Rooney, who was graciously substituted by Ferguson, saving his blushes for yet another day. A much better performance will be required mid-week if Rooney is to break his scoring duck for this season.
Super-sub Owen scored a glancing header on 74 minutes to put the Reds level with his 200th goal in English club football. All his previous league goals for Utd had come from the bench, and he looked to have saved a vital point for United once more. United continued to threaten, but Bolton were equal to the pressure laid on, kept tight at the back, and were rewarded with an excellent point. The Reds, on the other hand, will be grateful to Elmander, who squandered a gilt-edged opportunity after coasting past Vidic and Evra, a minute prior to the Owen equaliser.
Bolton have every right to be pleased with today’s performance, whereas Man United lacked the composure and killer instinct to sufficiently stem the flow of an inspired Bolton side, and may consider themselves luck to come away with a point. Rooney continued his miserable form, Berbatov was nowhere near as inspired as last week, and you feel that the longer Ferdinand spends on the sidelines, the longer the Red Devil’s defence will continue to be shaky. The strength of the Ferdinand-Vidic parternship has been the key to United’s recent success, and Evans in no way fills the gap left by Rio.
Sir Alex may be left scratching his head after today’s performance, but will be pleased that his side are the only time in the big five to take home a point this weekend. United fail to leapfrog Arsenal, but in a weekend in which form went out of the window, Manchester’s finest are still adding to their points tally. A tricky trip to Spain awaits them, but a much stronger performance will be needed to overturn Valencia away, especially considering their strong record against English clubs.