Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez keep Manchester United in honours hunt
07 March 2009 07:16
Their similarities are remarkable: sublime, visionary skill mixed with squat, hard-running aggression. Even Fulham's vaunted defensive solidity crumbled in the face of their onslaught, easing United into the semi-finals of the FA Cup and keeping their ambitions of winning all major honours alive.
'It was excellent, right from the word go,' Alex Ferguson said.
'We played with energy and enjoyment. It was a superb performance from Tevez. He was a jack-in-the-box all day for us. He's got such great energy.' There was plenty for Ferguson to ponder here.
Jose Mourinho's Internazionale arrive at Old Trafford on Wednesday and he must hope that Rio Ferdinand's ankle injury, which forced his half-time withdrawal here, will not prevent his involvement against the Italian champions. He left the game wearing a protective plastic boot.
'It's a bit of concern for us,' Ferguson said. 'He's gone over on his ankle I just hope he can make Wednesday because he's such an important player for us.'
Furthermore, after this display, Ferguson must wonder what exactly his best strike partnership is? Before this game he had extolled the virtues of Dimitar Berbatov's contribution this season, the elegant Bulgarian's ability to act as a last third fulcrum giving United a different route to goal.
Yet, watching from the bench, he might have been the only United partisan not looking on with wholehearted enjoyment. If Rooney and Tevez are in this kind of form, enhanced by their intuitive understanding of each other's movement, then there must be a serious case for unleashing them as a pair on Inter. 'It's not easy for me leaving world class players out every game,' Ferguson said.
With that crucial Champions League game following on hard, Ferguson had been expected to use the depth of his squad to negotiate a team they have beaten in their last eight encounters. Instead, the United manager sent out a strong side with the only major omission being Cristiano Ronaldo The Portuguese will be fresh and sharp for Mourinho in the week.
While the strong line up was an indication of Ferguson's determination for domestic domination on all fronts it was also a compliment to Roy Hodgson's Fulham, so uncompromising here at Craven Cottage this season.
It was one Hodgson was quickly wishing he hadn't been paid: after taking quarter of an hour to warm up, United were at their fluid best, their retention of the ball at times astonishing
Tevez and Rooney were superb. With 20 minutes gone, the unceasingly slick Michael Carrick sent in an in-swinging corner which was flicked to the far post by Rooney. Tevez had crept in behind Paul Konchesky and squeezed his header in from a tight angle.
The second was made by Tevez explosive brilliance. Picking the ball up on the counter, Tevez surged down the left channel before cutting inside leaving Dickson Etuhu on his backside and shooting superbly into the top corner. The finish was pure overkill, perfection for its own sake.
Rooney also tried to finish too well when he guided Park's cross against the far post from all of three yards out when pretty much anything on target would have been good for a goal. Having just seen a goal ruled out for a marginal offside he must have wondered what it was going to take to score.
The answer came just four minutes into the second half. Fulham made a hash of clearing the ball after Tevez and Rooney had again combined, allowing Anderson to find Rooney on the edge of the box. With deceptive simplicity, Rooney shuffled inside and bent a low shot around Schwarzer.
Irrepressible, United made for a fourth. John O'Shea and Park were denied by the reflexes of Schwarzer and Tevez could not quite thread a shot in at the near post, his hat-trick effort going into the side-netting.
Park, whose contribution to this side is often overlooked, did finally get his goal, picking up a loose Fulham pass, sprinting directly towards goal and curling the ball in.
Hodgson, who recognised his side faced 'a mountainous task' after going two down, withdrew his strikers and playmaker Danny Murphy to fight another day. Perhaps things had been different if Nemanja Vidic had not been there to sweep up after Andy Johnson had poked a long ball past a surprised and wrong-footed Edwin van der Sar. But really Fulham will have been grateful no greater punishment meted out: in this form United are formidable.