At half time I’ll admit to being restless.
We’d pushed and pressed but been unable to find reward for our dominance. The performance was undoubtedly better than the stilted efforts of the first few weeks, but there was a sense of danger that if we didn’t break them down they would eventually create, and possibly take, a chance. Worse case scenario, I know, but Wigan ended the half a hell of a lot better than they started it. Fortunately we killed the contest early enough in the second period, going on with the job to record an important clean sheet, scoring often in the process.
Anders Lindegaard – 6/10
A couple of clean takes were the highlight, especially on a night when Szczesny showed how difficult it could be to pluck a ball from the sky. Made a sharp save to keep the lead at 2, sliding out to deny the oncoming striker as the game teetered on the brink of being killed off. Had little to do in the way of stopping shots on target, in truth, with the only blemish a wayward pass that concluded the match. Personally I’m still in the David De Gea camp, with this outing hardly a searching examination of Lindegaard’s long-term suitability in the role. In fact, that this is the softest game we’ve had to date should immediately invalidate any argument for the Dane being our number one.
Rafael – 6.5/10
Yet another impressive and disciplined outing for Rafael. Maturity seems to have been added to his locker, with the new puppy enthusiasm tempered in favor of restraint and focus. Prepared, as always, to make his way up the right hand side, but just as dedicated to guarding his flank. His start to the season has been very, very positive indeed.
Rio Ferdinand – 6/10
These awards are often criticized for being midfielder’s awards, with that position owing itself to more exposure and opportunity for flair. Thing is our defense hasn’t been as watertight as in the past. It’s been flakey bordering on shaky. They were untroubled and well organized for the first 25-30 minutes, with the central pairing hardly involved or tested. But when the examinations inevitably came we looked a little wobbly. That the first sustained spell of Wigan pressure came at the half hour, with shots flashing wide, magnified how nervy how finish to the half was. The goals relived the pressure valve significantly, with the defense that was untroubled but suddenly under threat walking on eggshells when the score read 0-0. Ferdinand was a picture of calm when we had the game under control, but like Vidic looked like he was waiting for something to go wrong rather than believing it wouldn’t when the heat was on.
Nemanja Vidic 6/10
His slow start to the season, coming back from a very serious knee injury, was less of an issue than it has been, with the Serbian noticeably more comfortable for longer periods during this outing. Like Rio he was in control when we had the game under control and in the bag, but that unflappability has departed him and us in these first four games. I’ve been slightly hard on him thus far, but that’s only because his reputation and our expectation meet fairly high. Was great to see him meet the ball more often in the air, a trademark of his game, which says his timing and rhythm could be on the improve.
Alex Büttner – 7.5/10
Büttner moved well and got stuck in; the short appraisal is that he looked quite good. Capped a memorable debut by scoring himself and provided the deflected shot for Hernandez, the highlight of his involvement was how he motored into dangerous attacking positions, looking lively and likely when taking a man on. He looked pretty good at the back, too, positing himself well and providing an obstacle for all Wigan attacks down that side. Make of Evra’s expression at the end what you will. Was it worry? Was it French smugness? Was it one masking the other? The beauty is competition for places is important. If the Dutchman can continue on in this form Evra wont be strolling past the team sheet at training knowing his name is certainly on it. He’ll be one of those staring anxiously over shoulders looking for his name. Admittedly I might’ve given him half a point to get him a vote, but I’m sure I’m not alone in being excited by his debut.
Ryan Giggs – 4/10
Giggsy had a bad one; his radar was a bit off. His work rate was still exemplary, with the 38 year old powering up and down the pitch to lend support and relief at every opportunity, but on offence he just couldn’t affect the contest. Provided one moment of quality when a through ball split the Wigan rearguard and sent Nani through, who wasted whatever promise had been created by his teammate. Good to see, however, that his importance in games like these isn’t underestimated or overlooked. In April we swanned on into Wigan expecting victory, coming away with a demoralizing loss. Whilst this team was lodged with one eye on a midweek Champions League engagement, hoping to give a rest to players that will hopefully start that campaign on the right note, that he featured should only reinforce how vital it was to take all three points last night.
Michael Carrick – 7/10
A good game from Carrick I thought. His movement around the pitch was good, his work in tandem with Scholes to control the game and maintain possession part of the reason we were so untroubled for most of the first half. His quick thinking and feet, as well as exceptional vision and awareness, created the opening goal when he found Nani and turned the ball back to the Portuguese for him to drill a low ball that Al Habsi could only parry into Scholes’ path.
Paul Scholes – 8/10
When he made way for Nick Powell it was the beauty of class and experienced contrasted with youth and exuberance. His cognizance, poise and calm is something to behold. It just hasn’t diminished in all these years. The term form is temporary, class forever does him a disservice, because his form has been exceptional all these years. Notched a goal on his 700th appearance for the club, another milestone in a truly remarkable career of highlights only eclipsed by his long time teammate, Ryan Giggs. He was the maestro and the man through which all action flowed, even at his age he still dominates the midfield. We’re reminded regularly how blessed we’ve been to see the likes of Giggs and Scholes, but nights like this, when he subtly but clinically controls a game in the most intense league in the world, with the absence of fanfare that has become his calling card, are sights to behold.
Nani – 7/10
It’d be interesting to gauge the feeling regarding Nani’s game. I thought it not bad. He was tidy, confident and comfortable on the ball, noticeably took fewer corners (which isn’t surprising) and did a lot of simple things very well. Still had his trademark flops and strops when tackled, and the odd ill advised and quite frankly awful shot on goal, but he played his part and was a danger on his favored right hand side. I can see why Valencia is preferred on that side, but Nani showed good attitude and application when given this chance. Sure, his wage demands look a bit silly when he launches half a dozen rasps into the upper reaches of the first tier, but occasionally he’ll do something great, like the lovely clipped ball into the box which Welbeck almost turned in after seventeen minutes and the jink inside his opponent on the touchline that set up the first goal. He created that goal with some patience and persistence on the ball, refusing to put it into the box without a reasonable and realistic option to receive it. Don’t let his decision to chip a camped Al Habsi when played through by Giggs cloud what was a reasonable outing.
Javier Hernandez – 7/10
Welbeck and Hernandez grafted very well. Hernandez was rewarded with a goal, his killer instinct and great positioning again paying dividends to turn in Büttner’s low shot. His penalty was poor, sure, with the duty falling to him more as an audition than anything else. Looked a little uncomfortable when playing with his back to goal, but his touch and control has improved out of sight. I said in my last piece that his teammates have more confidence feeding him the ball to feet because of the improvement in his close control and distribution, something that was bordering on liability at times in the past. He showed on a number of occasions just how far he’d come, deftly stopping and then distributing a number of balls; which was terrific to see.
Danny Welbeck – 8/10
Welbeck moved well, firing in a few nice volleys either side of the break that showed creativity, versatility and industry, but both were just wide. His intensity was good, with several examples of a preparedness to shoot littering the early stages. Not one of these chances were worse than half, with many on track to instigate a save before intervention from Wigan to diffuse the danger. He really was a menace, a persistent and impressive target from go to whoa. As such it was a shame he didn’t get any reward. You feel he needs to start scoring, as form like this will only keep the big boys out for so long. It’s a disappointing double standard that others won’t be held to the same standard, but reputation won’t be forced to watch on from the bench.
Nick Powell – 3.5/5
Plays with experience and calm that belies his age, I had to confirm that he actually is 18-years-old. Good with both feet, he showed poise, vision and creativity when exhibiting excellent movement to find and create space, with his promising bow rewarded with a lovely long-range goal. He moves a little like Carrick and shots a lot like Scholes, his 20-odd minute cameo couldn’t have been more pleasing or impressive. 2012/13 is a growing year for Powell, with involvement in first team affairs to come in intervals, afforded sparingly so to not overwhelm him. Confidence is paramount and whilst he appears to have the temperament and ability to maintain that, we don’t want it lost because he is pushed to far too quickly.
Jonny Evans – 2.5/5
And finally some cover arrives. I’m hardly going out on a limb when I say it’s crucial to have options, it can be handy in the event of fitness and form, you know. When the guys that have been at the coalface so far are either midfielders or in the twilight of their wonderful careers, Evans needs to be available. Was basically a spectator when he did come on, but it was more about him being out there than anything else.
Robin van Persie – 3/5
The guy is class. As Jay from The Inbetweeners would say, its “simples”. Came on and immediately injected himself into the fray, linking well with teammates and scaring the bejesus out of whoever was charged with marking him. Only a last minute intervention stopped him adding to his goal tally, with a tap in on the goal line all that was required before the ball was hooked away under good pressure.
Scholes – 3
Welbeck – 2
Büttner – 1
Kagawa – 6
Scholes – 6 (note: polled in every game he has played)
Valencia – 3
Van Persie – 3
De Gea – 2
Welbeck – 2
Büttner – 1
Anderson – 1