1. Vintage United. It was tense, it was intriguing, it was nerve racking, it was United. How many times have you sat their on the edge of the seat watching United pummel the opponent until they succumb to the battering ram of our attack?
Not even SAF could hide his excitement as he fist pumped on the sidelines after fans cried out for a wave. There are very few occasions when we see a really animated SAF in the dugout but it is a testament to how important this victory really is.
We dug our heels in and showed that championship winning mentality that runs through United like blood through a vein. It seemed like all the crosses in the world were not going to stop a very defensively organised Blackburn gaining a point out of a game they were 8-1 on to win before kick-off.
United now sit atop the Premier League with a healthy five point gap over City. By the time they play Arsenal in a mouth-watering tie next Sunday, we could be eight points clear if we overcome QPR at Old Trafford.
Considering City were five points clear of us just before we had to play Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham, it seemed like City were going to run away with it. How wrong they were. Since Paul Scholes returned, we are undefeated with ten wins in eleven matches and a sole draw against Chelsea that almost felt like a win anyway.
If certain things come together before United make the trip to the Etihad on April 30, we may well be celebrating number 20 in City’s backyard. Could anything be sweeter?
2. Half man, half beast. Antonio Valencia is hands down our player of the season thus far. One goal. One assist. 49/59 completed passes. 21 attempted crosses. 12 goals and four assists in 16 Premier League appearances this season.
What a performance from Tony. Even he struggled to keep a damp squib expression after blasting United into the lead as he tore off to celebrate after a Roberto Carlos-esque strike that nearly blew a hole in the net.
Valencia gets a mention in the match report every week and every time, it is justified. He is simply the most important player to our attack as of right now. Rooney is still our talismanic striker through which the football is played but Valencia is our go-to-guy when we need some chances created.
His reliability has been his greatest strength this season, apart from his great strength, and full backs quiver at the knees when Tony is around. Nobody has been able to handle him since his return from injury and it seems like time on the treatment table only galvanises our Ecuadorian warrior.
If United are to lift title number 20 this season then Antonio Valencia can crack another rare smile, safe in the knowledge that he has played a hugely pivotal role in it.
3. The twelfth man. The fans were utterly magnificent in a vocal display that made the back of your hairs stand up. I had my stereo up full whack to fully appreciate it. The only thing that stopped the 7000 United away fans from singing was the final whistle from Howard Webb.
The United contingency away from Old Trafford has always been praised for their support but the raucous at Ewood Park was something else. It felt like a home game. For all the jibes that come from those that rightly criticise the sometimes dismal atmosphere at Old Trafford, it was a perfect show of what the real supporters bring.
Our players were clearly spurred on by the roars of “Attack, Attack, Attack!” reverberating from the walls of Ewood Park and the vibrations must have been felt on the pitch when Valencia sent the fans delirious.
SAF was quick to point towards the away stand after the final whistle as he wanted his players to rightfully appreciate how fantastic the fans were. You only have to look as far as City to see how having the fans on your back can negatively affect the performances. I just hope that those 7000 fans can bring it back to Old Trafford and whip 70,000 others into shape.
4. Our defence is strong once again. Johnny Evans has been in imperious form this season and he rightfully picked up the fans player of the month for March. Rio Ferdinand has re-kindled his United fire with some assured, intelligent performances that have rarely seen him stretched. Rafael and Evra have both been tenacious down the wings with bursting runs to support the attack, whilst putting in impressively professional stints as full backs.
Even if the opposition gets past our stalwart defence, they have to get past our keeper. Four cleans sheets in his last four games and 12 consecutive Premier League appearances have brushed over the teething problems of De Gea’s United career.
He may not have had much to do tonight but when he was called upon, he was there to pull out some top drawer saves. Dave has got quite a highlight reel from this season, which only grows the more he plays.
The scary thing is that De Gea is only 20 years old. He has vastly improved in only a matter of months since he arrived at Old Trafford and is already laying the foundations for what could be a United legacy. VDS retired at 40, so we still have David for at least 20 years, right?
5. Rooney on the left doesn’t work. He drifted into the centre more often than not with his natural positioning taking over instruction. Evra tried his hardest to give an option wide left but his runs were leading to nothing.
Rooney thrives in the natural number ten role when he sits behind the striker when he can roam and make space for himself. He kept doing that tonight despite playing on the left of a 433 and it meant that when United got to the edge of the box, it was clogged with players and we had to go wide to try and find a way through.
Fast forward to the second half and Giggs/Young coming on for Scholes/Jones and United switch to a more natural 442. With three wingers on the pitch, United carried an aura of unpredictability around them that allowed spaces and gaps to appear. It all paid off in the 81st minute when Valencia nearly tore the net off but it was what we deserved after knocking on the door the whole game.
We should stick to the 442 formation that has reaped such dividends this season rather than switching to a 433 to try and bring a new angle. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.