By Thomas Doyle.
1. The legs may go but the class doesn’t
As Thierry Henry displayed so thrillingly in the FA Cup against Leeds United last week, while the pace and strength of a top class player may go, he always retains the brains. And so another returning legend reinforced this point at Old Trafford in first-half stoppage time; with United struggling to break through against an inspired Mark Bogdan in the Bolton goal, up popped Paul Scholes at the back post to set the Red Devils on their way to a much-needed win. He may have been huffing and puffing fairly early on, but Scholes’ ability to drift into the box unnoticed hasn’t been lost. It’s somewhat ironic that during the game, Scholes’ passing was slightly amiss, yet he made numerous interceptions and blocks to stop Bolton in their tracks, and while he has taken on the quarter-back role in recent years, the ‘Ginger Prince’ managed to pop up in a vital attacking position. And they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks…
2. On or off form, Wayne Rooney is still vital
It’s fair to say that Wayne Rooney had an average game on Saturday. He missed a penalty, hit many wayward passes, and laboured throughout, yet ended the game with two excellent assists. The first for Scholes’ opener was a deft pass to take the Wanderers’ defence by surprise when most expected him to smash the ball goalwards, while the second was a selfless pass for Danny Welbeck, in which both players found themselves injured. Man United lacked Rooney’s creativity against Blackburn on Boxing Day, and against Bolton the striker showed that even when not on top form, he can still be devastatingly effective. Sir Alex Ferguson will be hoping that Rooney can carry on creating for his team-mates as well as chipping in with goals, as the recalling of Scholes highlighted United’s desperation for a creative force once again.
3. Danny Welbeck is now a first-choice striker
While many fans were encouraged by Welbeck’s impressive form for Sunderland last season, few expected him to be able to fit so seamlessly into the United team straight away. But the 21-year-old for Longsight can now consider himself to be a first-choice player for United, injuries permitting. Welbeck has shown that he can link well with Rooney, Nani and United’s other creative players, and has all the key attributed needed to be a top striker. He has great pace, control, technique, strength, aerial ability, and he takes his chances well in front of goal. His second-half strike against Bolton was his eighth in 21 appearances this season, and while Javier Hernandez struggles for form and the future of Dimitar Berbatov remains uncertain, Welbeck has earned his place alongside Rooney. As Tony Mogan pointed out last week (5 Things We Learned: Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United), with goals against the likes of Manchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea, Welbeck seems to relish the big games – a valuable asset for the big away games coming up.
4. Anders Lindegaard may now be first-choice
While Bolton haven’t exactly filled opposition defences with dread this season, Anders Lindegaard coped comfortably with any potential aerial threats foisted his way. The 27-year-old Dane was bought as an experienced back-up to the raw-but-talented Spaniard David de Gea, but as question marks remains over the youngster’s ability to cope with the physical demands of the Premier League, Lindegaard is proving to be an extremely safe pair of hands. As with Danny Welbeck’s rise, Lindegaard has simply worked hard and played his way into the team, and his character suggests he will be loathe to relinquishing the number one jersey. Ferguson has experimented with both keepers for differing situations, but few United fans would begrudge Lindegaard an extended spell in goal, especially when Manchester City’s form has meant that any mistakes could be vital to the destination of the title.
5. Michael Carrick continues to grow into the season
With Michael Carrick dividing the opinion of United fans throughout his Old Trafford career, we may finally be seeing the best of the 30-year-old midfielder. With an elegant strike (with his left foot of all things!), Carrick rounded off the win against Bolton, but his desire to break into more goal-scoring positions of late suggests a new-found confidence – whereas before Carrick’s job was merely to dictate tempo and intercept passes, but the attacking intent of late will surely be welcomed by Ferguson and fans alike. As the central midfield has been decimated by injuries and a lack of creativity of late, it is refreshing to see Carrick taking games by the scruff of the neck, and looking like he finally belongs in the red shirt of Manchester United.