Berbatov still the great enigma despite high five
Manchester Utd 7
Blackburn Rvrs 1
One Manchester United striker contributed to his side's biggest win of the season at Old Trafford on Saturday with a display of relentless intensity, brimming with effervescence and energy, proving himself a constant menace to Blackburn's beleaguered defence. The other, the one who ended the match with five goals to his name, was Dimitar Berbatov.
The Bulgarian may now stand alone at the top of the Premier League's scoring charts. He may be only the fourth player to score five times in a single game since football's rebranding in 1992. That will not, though, be enough to quell the ranks of dissenters who question, if not his ability, then certainly his efficacy. Five goals or not, Berbatov remains the game's great enigma.
It is not hard to see why. Wayne Rooney, not quite back to his best here ,but clearly on the mend, boasts the boundless stamina, the ceaseless desire, the perpetual motion expected, demanded, of modern forwards.
Berbatov, it is fair to say, does not. His laconic gait and slow-motion grace condemn him to cut an anachronistic figure. He is probably the only player in the Premier League who looks like a smoker.
It is that image which is used to berate the striker when things do not run as smoothly as they did on Saturday.
From the 72nd second, when he tapped home his first goal, to the 27th minute, when Pascal Chimbonda gifted him another to add to Ji-Sung Park's strike, to the 23-minute hat-trick which he managed in a second half in which Nani also struck, this was never likely to be a day on which to question whether Berbatov represents good value for £30.5m.
His season, though, like his career at Old Trafford, has not been quite so straightforward. Before Blackburn parted at his every whim here, he had endured 10 barren games after his hat-trick in September's 3-2 win against Liverpool. It is in those runs that Berbatov's uniqueness tends to become a problem.
"I was a little bit concerned," he admits of that poor form. "When you are a striker, people tend to judge you by the goals you score. But for me it is more than just goals. It is about how you play with other players, how you link with them, the assists you give. (Against Blackburn) it was all about goals for me, so I am very pleased."
For Allardyce, at least, that description may be a little self-effacing. The Blackburn manager has some experience dealing with problems of perception, dating to his time defending Nicolas Anelka, the man dubbed 'Le Sulk,' from persistent allegations of moodiness during his spell at Bolton. Received wisdom, he believes, is often erroneous.
"Dimitar has a laid-back style," Allardyce said. "Everyone always said Nicolas looked miserable. It is to do with perception. I had the same perception of Nicolas as everyone else before I met him, but afterwards you realise that is not the case.
"You have to understand the intelligence of Berbatov, how he finds spaces in tight areas, how rarely his touch deserts him, how he looks slow, but is actually far quicker (than he appears)."
Much the same could be said of United. Perhaps the Bulgarian has come to define a side who have managed to go 29 domestic games without defeat since March, but, before Saturday, have failed to impress, yet sit on top of the Premier League table without ever having looked like potential champions.
"That is what we work towards," admitted Michael Carrick, partnered in midfield by the outstanding Anderson.
"We have set high standards in the past and that is what keeps us going, to see if we can live up to those standards. This was one of those days.
"It is easy to get carried away with the ups and downs of how a season goes," added Carrick. "Not so long ago people were saying that Chelsea were pretty much invincible.
"But they had a rough spell and now those same people are saying we are in the driving seat.
"We are not naive enough to get carried away by that. We have some big games coming up, Arsenal and Chelsea among them, so we will just evaluate over Christmas and push on over New Year."
"Dimitar's finishing was of the highest order -- his (third) goal, where he played a one-two with Patrice Evra and got in the box will be up there for goal of the season -- but it was the all-round performance.
"He and Wayne were dangerous all day. The intensity and the fluency of the attacking play was great throughout the game and it's a good feeling when that comes together."
For Berbatov, as much as for United, the Premier League's great enigmas both, the most pressing issue now is how long that good feeling lasts. (© Daily Telegraph, London)