Manchester United back on top after Ryan Giggs brilliance stuns West Ham

08 February 2009 06:10
The old ones are the best – and Manchester United's veterans are laughing all the way to another title. The three most experienced performers at Upton Park on Sunday, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Edwin van der Sar, excelled in subduing a lively West Ham, reclaiming the Premier League high ground from Liverpool and sending out a message that no one, not even Father Time, can catch them.

Giggs, 35 going on 25, was superb, driving down both flanks, even dropping back into defence to clear as well as scoring the only goal. After the 90-minute stalemate at White Hart Lane and an hour without a breakthrough here, it seemed that Sky's double bill was turning into Stupor Sunday. But then came Giggs.

Weaving past claret-and-blue shirts, shimmering with balance and adventure, the Welsh winger conjured up memories of George Best in his defence-destroying pomp. 'Giggs. Giggs will tear you apart again,'' came the familiar chant from United fans relishing the Premier League being turned into another joy division for them.

Giggs's first league goal of the term means he has now struck in every Premier League season, a remarkable feat of endurance and a testament to his professionalism. Lean and hungry, Giggs makes a fine role model. Blessed with a sublime left foot, Giggs practised overtime to nurture his right, a devastating weapon when required in front of goal at Upton Park.

There are those in the game half Giggs' age with a quarter of his desire. His trophy cabinet is bigger than the average house, crammed with medals celebrating 10 titles and two European Cups, but Giggs plays every second of every game as if he has everything to prove, and that is why he is so special.

Even the new European Footballer of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo, could develop his game further by focusing on Giggs' strengths, the way he gets on with the game, rather than riling officials and opposing fans. Sulk is a four-letter word to Giggs.

He also enjoys the company of outstanding colleagues. His goal was created by the tirelessly inventive Scholes, all of 34 but making a mockery of those who would write his professional obituary. Good passing will never go out of fashion, and Scholes can hardly lose the pace he never had. Alacrity of thought and accuracy of distribution has always placed Scholes a yard ahead of others. He had to withstand a strong performance by Scott Parker in opposition but soon imposed his class, playing that killer pass to Giggs.

The lead secured, everyone knew that it was all over bar the shouting the odds by United fans. Such is the champions' record-breaking defensive obduracy that an equaliser seemed as likely as a heatwave. At 38, Van der Sar is even older than Giggs and Scholes, and those who can remember the last time he conceded a goal, to Arsenal's Samir Nasri, will probably soon be staging annual reunions with club ties and 'I was there'' badges.

It is 1,212 minutes since Van der Sar picked the ball out of the net and he rarely looked like being beaten here, particularly with Carlton Cole failing to turn some enterprising approach work into a threatening finish. The more venerable observers among the Upton Park crowd might recall that 1212 was Scotland Yard's old telephone number, and it felt like a different era when Nasri scored way back when.

As Van der Sar is quick to point out in his Groundhog Day post-match interviews, United's defenders play their part in manning the barricades so expertly, and Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand both deserve continued praise. The constant craving for victory that emanates from Sir Alex Ferguson, and fills Van der Sar, Scholes and Giggs is found throughout this remarkable United team.

Knowing that Upton Park had been the graveyard of their ambitions before, United had been quickly into their stride, the champions' pace and poise immediately in evidence. Dimitar Berbatov, dropping off Carlos Tevez time and again, glided through from deep early on, his progress stopped only by a magnificent challenge from the excellent Parker, not for the last time.

West Ham's No  8 embodied the determination and positive intentions of Gianfranco Zola's side, even attempting to beat Van der Sar from 40 yards as the hosts showed they were far from daunted by their celebrated guests. Parker's anchoring role freed the busy Mark Noble to push on and he enjoyed the licence to attack, soon sliding a pass down the inside-right channel for Cole to chase.

Newly called to the England squad, Cole was keen to impress the watching Fabio Capello and Jose Mourinho, the Inter Milan manager who sold him during their Chelsea days. Having gained a half-yard on Ferdinand, Cole surprisingly attempted to chip Van der Sar rather than shoot low, and United's keeper had little trouble clutching the ball out of the cold East End air. Cole again raised questions about his suitability for international football by dawdling in possession, allowing Ferdinand to manoeuvre the ball clear.

Ferdinand had been warmly applauded by the Upton Park faithful before kick-off, as had alumni such as Michael Carrick and particularly Tevez. The Argentine was hardly accorded such reverence by his old colleagues: one Matthew Upson challenge on Tevez was so strong it dislodged his Alice band.

The rest of the champions were greeted with derision, particularly Ronaldo, who almost silenced the Bobby Moore Stand when he turned a Scholes thunderbolt goalwards, only for Robert Green to tip over. When Ronaldo then appealed vainfully for a penalty, mocking chants of 'handball'' rang around Upton Park for the next minute. Less amusing was the shout of 'You should have died in the tunnel'', a reference to the winger's recent car crash.

United's other winger soon decided the game. Effortlessly controlling Scholes' 50-yard cross-field pass, Giggs cut inside the sliding Cole, who resembled a bullock deceived by a master matador. Parker then came charging in, attempting to extinguish the growing fire. No chance. Giggs just dummied inside and shot right-footed, the ball racing past Green. Ageless and peerless, United looked increasingly untouchable.

United's record breakers

Ryan Giggs's goal at Upton Park meant that the Welshman has scored in all 17 seasons of the Premier League, the only player to have done so. He now just needs three more strikes to become only the 17th player to score 100 goals in the league's history.Manchester United keeper Edwin van der Sar claimed a UK league record as he reached 1,212 minutes without conceding a goal. Van der Sar surpassed the previous mark, set by Aberdeen goalkeeper Bobby Clark, who went 1,155 minutes unbeaten in the Scottish First Division in 1970-71.

Source: Telegraph