On Saturday at the Reebok Stadium, Sir Alex Ferguson's team turned a tight, difficult game in to a comfortable victory. Their rivals in the Barclays Premier League and the Bayern Munich side they face in Germany in the Champions League on Tuesday should be very concerned.
This was a good news day for United. It was day when one of their domestic challengers Arsenal slipped up and a day when Bayern were beaten at home in the Bundesliga and lost key player Arjen Robben to injury. The Holland winger is very doubtful for Tuesday's clash.
Crisp finish: Dimitar Berbatov fires past Jussi Jaaskelainen to double United's lead
This, too, was a day when United won without Wayne Rooney, a daywhen the enigmatic talents of Dimitar Berbatov and the Portugal wingerNani came to the fore. In short, this was a day to breed belief thatglory can be Ferguson's once again this season.
There is a feeling among some United followers that this has been aprogessive season. It hasn't. Ferguson's team have been unconvincing attimes. There have been peculiar setbacks against teams like AstonVilla, Everton, Leeds and Burnley.
However, they have the wind at their backs now and begin a critical week in improving shape.
After Bayern comes a match with Chelsea in the league at OldTrafford on Saturday. Chelsea have just scored 12 goals in two games,but that should not trouble United unduly. Defensively they are assecure as they have been for a long time and, with Rooney back for thetrip to Germany and beyond, their forward players appear ready to wrestthe title initiative from their rivals in five days' time.
Screamer: Darron Gibson fires the fourth
Ferguson said: 'We have a big week but we are ready. We have to useour squad in situations like this and I have no qualms about that. Thisresult showed that.There has been a turnaround in goal difference overthe past four days.
'Chelsea got five against Portsmouth, seven today. It's a challenge.They've thrown the gauntlet down and Manchester United will alwaysaccept it.'
Still optimistic about being successful on two fronts, the coming days will certainly present United with a challenge.
The visitors had to withstand Bolton pressure and not even the giftof an own goal from Jlloyd Samuel in the first half was enough to quelltheir ambition.
Massive clanger: Jlloyd Samuel (right) fires past Jussi Jaaskelainen to gift United the lead
United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar had to make two good saves fromJohan Elmander and Fabrice Muamba to protect that lead ahead of theinterval and only when Berbatov scored the first of his two second halfgoals substitute Darron Gibson adding the other in the 69th minutecould United relax and play the expansive football they so enjoy.
MATCH FACTSBOLTON: (4-4-2) Jaaskelainen 5; Ricketts 6, Cahill 5, Knight 6, Samuel 5; Lee 6, Muamba 6, Cohen 6, Wilshere 7; Elmander 6 (Klasnic 73min), K Davies 6.
MAN UTD: (4-4-1-1) Van der Sar 7; Neville 7, Vidic 8, Evans 7, Evra 7; Valencia 6, Fletcher 6, Scholes 6 (Carrick 73, 6), Nani 7; Giggs 6 (Macheda 85); Berbatov 8.
Man of the match: Nemanja Vidic.
Referee: Martin Atkinson.
Ferguson's team scored some good goals, but it is his side's defending that will have pleased him most.
With Rio Ferdinand rested because of a groin twinge that should notstop him playing on Tuesday, Jonny Evans and, in particular, NemanjaVidic were masterful. Apart from the stray elbow that injured Elmander,the rest of the Serbia centre half 's game was almost perfect and it isapparent he has rediscovered his form and fitness when needed most.
Keeper Van der Sar acknowledged his team's debt when he said: 'Thesegames are ideal for someone with his qualities. He's great winningaerial battles. It gives us great confidence.'
Bayern will present United with a different kind of threat, but thefirst leg of their quarter-final should hold few fears for the Englishchampions.
They didn't really deserve to put four past Bolton. And that, as far as everybody else is concerned, is ominous.
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