Berbatov puts icing on cake for five-star United
Fulham 0 Manchester Utd 5
Published 22/12/2011 | 05:00
The champions saved their best until last at Craven Cottage last night. Make that George Best; the finishing touches of Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov were worthy of the great man, who himself once graced this old turf by the Thames.
It had been tempting to dwell on Ryan Giggs' landmark strike, making it 3-0 and meaning he has scored in all 20 seasons of the Premier League, until two unbelievable late goals from Manchester United. This was a formidable display by Alex Ferguson's men.
Danny Welbeck set the champions on their way, Nani making it 2-0 prior to Giggs' historic moment before the break. Fulham woke up, briefly showed signs of life, but Rooney's 25-yarder and then Berbatov's back-heel were the glorious icing on the cake.
Sadly for United, the three points came at a price: injuries to Phil Jones, who looked shell-shocked after encountering Clint Dempsey's elbow, and Ashley Young will have filled United's sick-bay further. Currently hors de combat are Nemanja Vidic, Tom Cleverley, Fabio da Silva, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen, Anderson and Darren Fletcher.
United could have declared at half-time. They were so in control, as good as Fulham were bad. The goals began to flow early, the first started by Jonny Evans who released Patrice Evra on the left. The Frenchman invited Nani to attack, and Fulham could not have been more obliging. Bryan Ruiz tracked back with Nani, but his was merely a watching brief.
Nani then turned Chris Baird inside out before crossing low for Welbeck to beat David Stockdale. Fulham roused themselves briefly, Ruiz seeking to make amends with a sinewy run into the United box but he was brilliantly dispossessed by Jones. When the United youngster, playing at right-back, got to his feet he immediately signalled to the bench that he could not continue.
The damage had been done earlier when he was caught by Dempsey's elbow. But Fulham were being so stretched, their defence soon collapsing again like a deckchair in a hurricane. Giggs and Valencia executed a corner routine and Valencia swept the ball across. Such was the paralysis in Fulham's defence that Nani, hardly Frank Stapleton in the air, was able to head the ball past Stockdale.
United fans were loving it, their vocal fans in the Putney End singing of favourite players past and present, and looking forward to a "Thursday night in Amsterdam." They had certainly invented some chants for Luis Suarez.
And soon the third came, the move starting when Valencia strode unchecked down the right and touched the ball inside to Nani. The Portuguese wandered into the Fulham box as if enjoying a leisurely Sunday stroll along the towpath. Eluding Brede Hangeland by gently applying the brakes, Nani rolled the ball across to Giggs, whose shot caught the sliding Senderos and dropped in over Stockdale. All too easy.
Even with his team leading 3-0, Ferguson's hunger for more was clear when he walked past United's fans as he returned to his dugout for the second half. Ferguson gave them a clenched-fist salute, as if indicating he wanted another dominant half.
At least Fulham turned up for the second half. Dempsey had a header held by Anders Lindegaard, United's 'keeper. Danny Murphy then touched a free-kick to John Arne Riise, whose 25-yarder thundered just wide.
Victory was coming at a cost. Young left the ground in challenging Dickson Etuhu, and came off worse, soon limping away. Ji-sung Park scampered on, and was involved in a superb move that almost led to a fourth.
The move contained a magical pass from Rooney, who lifted the ball over Fulham's defence for Welbeck. Stockdale saved well.
Fulham attempted to salvage some pride. Dempsey wriggled through but his shot was blocked by Chris Smalling. Yet United should have made it 4-0 when Nani slipped Welbeck through. One-on-one with Stockdale, Welbeck responded wildly, lifting the ball into the Putney End. Ferguson decided to remove Welbeck, sending on Berbatov with 14 minutes left.
When Dempsey teed up Andrew Johnson, Lindegaard pushed his shot over but Halsey signalled a goal-kick, much to the home fans' derision.
Rooney then showed Fulham how to do it, striking a magnificent goal from 25 yards. There was still more. Berbatov's finish, making it 5-0, was wonderful, a back-heel from Valencia's cross. United had completed the rout in style. (© Daily Telegraph, London)