With absolutely no competitive football to speak of currently in progress, there is a tendency for followers of the game, fans and pundits alike, to jump on any morsel of football like crazed, ravaged beasts – like the zombies from 28 Days Later on a small child, or like the News Of The World on a psychotic gunman’s victim.
Anyhow, Manchester United’s first pre-season friendly accumulated more column inches than most, probably because of a certain Bulgarian’s performance. With a new streamline coiffure, Dimitar Berbatov reentered the skeptical gaze of the world with an elegant performance against Celtic on Saturday night in Toronto.
Granted, Toronto, as a setting of football genius, needs much to be admired; Celtic, as a worthy opposition, were found readily wanting; and the competitive nature overall of course was practically nonexistent as the friendly ambled on at a pace that would’ve pleased a portrait artist. But, nevertheless, Berbatov provided the stimulus for everything positive that United produced and should deservedly take the credit for it.
The 29-year-old took his own goal with aplomb, preceded though it was with typical nonchalant control of the ball from Mame Biram Diouf’s cross. Following a few more spurned chances, many of which were provided by either he or the galloping Obertan, Berbatov illustrated his class again with a superb turn, several crisp touches and two assists for two United youngsters: Danny Welbeck and, fortuitously, Tom Cleverley.
Fortunately, Berbatov’s sublime performance should absorb any coverage of debutant Chris Smalling’s misjudged challenge on Joe Ledley that lead to Celtic’s penalty-spot equalizer. Although the United defence wasn’t under much pressure through the duration of the game, it did experience a couple of shaky moments and Smalling, for one, will want to keep looking forward.
Derek Hunter of The Daily Mail had another bone to pick with Manchester United though. Despite the entire starting back-four having an average age of 20.5, including Smalling, Johnny Evans and the da Silva twins, Hunter published an article lamenting United’s aging side.
He then produced United’s oldest eleven, expelling from memory the game he’d supposedly just watched and deliberately omitting any mention of Sir Alex Ferguson’s rotation policy that has been employed when dealing with the veterans at the club for the previous three or four (highly successful) years. Van der Sar, Gary Neville, Wes Brown, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Park Ji Sung, Paul Scholes, John O’Shea, Ryan Giggs, Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov were all nominated into his XI. But when, if ever, has that eleven ever been named by the manager?
Perhaps The Mail has been starved of club football for a bit too long.
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