Friday 23 March 2018

Welbeck rewards Fergie's faith in new kids

Manchester Utd 3 Tottenham 0,

Henry Winter

Ominous, very ominous. The kids are more than all right.

Alex Ferguson put his faith in youth at Old Trafford last night and was rewarded with a fine goal from Danny Welbeck, good shifts from Tom Cleverley and, particularly, Phil Jones and a clean sheet for David De Gea.

Stir in an Anderson strike and a Wayne Rooney header and this was an irresistible second-half display, a reminder of why United are champions.

This had been the second-youngest United team in Premier League history, a side that reflected the depth of options Ferguson can call upon.

With Fabio Capello watching intently, Cleverley was the first to show, controlling Ashley Young's pass and shooting goalwards, placing some fade on the ball in an attempt to catch Brad Friedel out.

The American goalkeeper, making his Spurs debut, did superbly to stretch out his left hand and push Cleverley's shot away. At 20, De Gea is half Friedel's age and he showed all the confidence of youth in dribbling around Rafael van der Vaart.

There was initially no trace of any uncertainty following his gaffes against Manchester City and West Brom, although there were a couple of late wobbles.

A reminder of expectation levels could be found near Capello in the smart seats: Edwin van der Sar was present.

His successor, De Gea, was largely unemployed in the first half, barring a couple of routine saves, and a good one from Van der Vaart as the half closed, but what most impressed was his distribution, whether with hand or foot.


He rewarded a supportive Stretford End with a thumbs-up as the teams headed to the tunnel at the break.

One right-footed pass to Chris Smalling had earned copious applause from the United fans.

Smalling was not completely convincing out of position at right-back, although he did have Gareth Bale to deal with.

The Welshman also troubled Jones midway through the first half, and was unfortunate not to earn a free kick on the edge of the box when caught by the teenage centre-half. Jones was lucky. That escape apart, Jones again demonstrated why Ferguson was so keen to recruit him, and why Capello rates him so highly.

He is a leader, shouting instructions and exhortations to more experienced team-mates, reading incoming danger, particularly when Niko Krancjar or Van der Vaart were trying to pick out Jermain Defoe.

Another United youngster, Welbeck, was linking with Rooney, combining superbly at one point. Welbeck found Rooney, who lifted the ball to the far post.

Young, having eluded Benoit Assou-Ekotto, sent a header just past Friedel's right-hand upright. Yet this was another reminder, if any were needed, of how reliant United are on Rooney for their creativity and cutting edge.

The champions, whose supporters were all given scarves with '19' on them beforehand, built promisingly but Spurs always looked comfortable in the first half, threatening at times. Kranjcar sent in a shot that De Gea held.

Van der Vaart released Defoe who was stopped only by a well-timed sliding tackle from Jonny Evans.

The game briefly became fractious when Nani caught Younes Kaboul. There were plenty of noises off the pitch, too. Tottenham fans enjoyed taunting Young with chants comparing him unfavourably to Aaron Lennon, while Nani was dismissed as "just a **** Michael Jackson".

The first half was no thriller, though. The second period at least opened with a better tempo, Rooney finding Young, who turned and commanded a low save from Friedel.

The Tottenham keeper then reacted well to push away Anderson's drive and Rooney's follow-up.

Spurs had been forced to rejig their defence at the break, Kyle Walker having been taken ill, requiring Vedran Corluka to step in at right-back.

The visitors were torn apart down their left for United's 61st-minute opening goal.

Having linked well with Smalling, Cleverley delivered a superb cross, the ball arrowing towards the head of Welbeck, who leapt superbly to direct it past Friedel. The England international ran to the Stretford End, kissing the badge on his shirt as Old Trafford celebrated.

Their idols were now in the mood, attacking with greater gusto. When Kranjcar fouled Patrice Evra on the edge of the box, only Friedel's reflexes stopped Rooney's free kick from curling in at the near post.

Still they attacked, hunting a second. Smalling headed across to Welbeck, who responded with an overhead kick, bringing another save from Friedel.

The American was superb, working overtime, denying Nani and Welbeck in quick succession.

Welbeck was a man possessed, running at pace at the Spurs defence, and only a well-timed Michael Dawson interception rescued the visitors.

Tottenham were dropping deeper and deeper, their confidence draining as Rooney schemed, Welbeck sprinted and Young dribbled.

Even Jones tried his luck with a shot from long range.

Redknapp rang the changes, Tom Huddlestone and Roman Pavlyuchenko coming on as Jake Livermore and Kranjcar were removed.

Losing 1-0, Redknapp had to gamble. Spurs were immediately on the attack but when Van der Vaart tried to bring the ball down, Rooney nicked it.

A goal was coming -- and when it came it was a classic. This was United at their very best, counter-attacking at speed, the ball flowing between Rooney, Anderson and Welbeck, whose backheel invited Anderson to make it 2-0.

Spurs desperately needed a cutting edge, a reality that shows why they are interested in signing Emmanuel Adebayor on loan. They almost scored when De Gea showed slight frailty under a cross from Corluka, and Defoe nearly punished him with a volley that hit the post.

There was more, Ryan Giggs lifting in a cross with his right foot for Rooney to earn due reward for a superb display by heading home. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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