Anyone who saw Manchester United take Fulham apart at Craven Cottage last night will have viewed a performance reminiscent of the best United teams of the last 20 years. After a late Autumn of pure misery and a subsequent raft of marginal and unconvincing wins, United blazed a trail on Wednesday evening and even outdid their noisy neighbours Manchester City, by recording a 5-0 win, despite continued bad luck with injuries.
It made no difference that Phil Jones and Ashley Young increased the length of the Old Trafford injury list with nasty looking head and knee injuries. Whoever came on for United just continued and proliferated the attacking intent that Fergie has attempted to imbue in all of his charges down the years. So many questions have been asked of this team and, despite winning 6 of their last 7 games, their form since the big defeat to City has been very patchy. Even the win at QPR at the weekend was disjointed and punctuated by profligacy. Most onlookers declare confidently that United lack creativity in midfield – a magician to provide the sort of service that will optimise the pace and penetration of the countless forwards in United’s armoury.
Last night this position was amply filled by the unbelievable Ryan Giggs. More ‘everbrown’ than ‘evergreen’ such has been the length and brilliance of his autumn years, Giggs basically looked as if he was somehow still improving at 38. His touch and reading of the game is certainly better than ever. And while he may have lost a few yards of pace, his energy levels still compare favourably to most on the pitch. After scoring one and generally masterminding United’s best first half display in months, Giggs could be seen charging back into his own defense in the 47th minute to complete a thundering challenge on John Arne Riise. The FA’s drug testing unit must surely have made a bee-line for the Welshman after the game, such was the superhuman tone to his performance. But Giggs’ only drug is football.
Fulham weren’t at the races in the first half but that doesn’t detract from the spellbinding first 45 from the away team, where United gave a passing masterclass. Their performance was definitely helped by the early goal, but after that Fulham simply couldn’t get the ball from a rampant United who’s every pass found its man. It was the United of old. The United who takes just a few seconds to get from box to box. The United that wants to improve its goal difference. The United that thinks only of scoring the next goal, rather than protecting what they have. Nani added a final ball to his dazzling skills, Valencia looked back to his best , Rooney showed sublime touch and scored an impossible goal which exploded from his foot from 35 yards – and how United could have used Micheal Carrick’s class in Basel.
United still need to sign players in the midfield department if they are to take up the ultimate gauntlet of matching and surpassing Barcelona. But in Jones, Smalling (excellent when moved to centre-back), Wellbeck, Rooney and Nani, United have the basis of the next great team in their history. Despite his age, perhaps Giggs should also be added to the list of ‘future greats’ at United, such was the promise of this individual performance. United will face sterner tests than Fulham in 2012 but can Giggs feasibly be left out of the team on this form? He reminds the rest exactly what sort of standard has to be reached to be regarded as a United legend.
This Premier League campaign looks as if it is going to be won with a very high number of points. With Manchester City appearing unbeatable it will take an inordinately large effort for United to win the title this time around. But, if this performance is anything to go by, at least the title race will retain the interest of onlookers right through until the end of the campaign.