Blackburn Rovers vs Manchester United: Seven Things We Learned
In my previous article, I had written about how the trip to Ewood Park would make or break Manchester United's title credentials for various reasons. They may have left it late, but that's Manchester United. Their win sends Blackburn back into the relegation zone and United five points clear of Manchester City and on the top of the table. Who would have thought this was possible back in January after a 3-0 drubbing to Newcastle United?
While United may make the short trip home from Blackburn with three points in the bag, the importance is far greater, having pulled out a victory for the first time at Ewood Park since the start of the 2008-09 season. But these three points mean far more than anything else. Read on to find out what we can learn from a night like this
1. Manchester United Played Like Champions
For eighty minutes, Manchester United made chance after chance and could not find the back of the net, despite hitting the post through Javier Hernandez. All the match needed was a spark of brilliance, and it was provided by Antonio Valencia, who scored the first and made the second goal for substitute Ashley Young.
Manchester United has one of the worst records away from home at Ewood Park, and today is where they stamped their title-credentials against one of their bogey teams. Title number 20 doesn't seem to be too far from here, lest complacency gets the better of Manchester United.
2. Antonio Valencia Is the Best Winger in the World at the Moment
What is it that he can't do? He can cross, he can cover distance from one end of the field to the other without a fuss, and now he can score. And how! From a ridiculously tight angle, when everyone thought that Valencia was teeing up to deliver a cross, he stunned everyone with a knuckled shot that beat Blackburn 'keeper Paul Robinson and took everyone by surprise.
The Ecuadorian had even confessed his fear of United playing the title decider against City and Tevez scoring the decisive goal.
Antonio Valencia made a telling contribution ever since his return from the injury he picked up against Ajax, and Manchester United have been the beneficiaries of his red hot form.
He's been described as a very shy and introverted person by Sir Alex Ferguson, but you can see how much that goal meant to him and how much it meant to Manchester United's quest for Title No 20. With four goals and 12 assists in just 20 games, he's atop the Premier League assist chart tied with David Silva, despite starting 11 games less than the Spaniard.
3. David De Gea Can Cope with Physical Sides
In the reverse fixture at Old Trafford, David de Gea was the epitome of disaster. After a disastrous period between the sticks, the young Spaniard has had the advantage of playing in front of a settled center-back pairing and after being dropped in the game against Liverpool, he has gone on to produce a string of jaw-dropping saves and proved his worth time and time again.
After a virtuoso performance against Norwich City at Carrow Road where he denied the Canaries time and time again, to saving a valuable point against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, he has gone from strength and strength, and as Sir Alex Ferguson put it, "David de Gea stood up as a man."
Of course, he did spill a free-kick which Blackburn failed to make the most of, but this was a good shift between the sticks for de Gea and he looks set to hold the No.1 spot as his own for a long time to come.
4. Roberto Mancini Can Eat His Words
A statement such as that shows how ludicrous the Italian looks after failing in the mind-games department against Sir Alex Ferguson. In addition to handling a dressing room full of big egos and reports of a bust-up between Balotelli and Yaya Toure coming to the fore in the papers, the question is how Manchester City will manage all of them and keep them prepared for a tough trip to the Emirates.
There may be rumors of the former Lazio and Sampdoria man getting the sack, but that would only serve to destroy the fragile peace Mancini tried to broker between the egos in his squad. The title race is quite clearly out of his hand now.
5. The Fans Made It Feel Like a Home Game
The Darwen End was filled to the brim by Manchester United fans who had to make the short 25 mile trip to Ewood Park. This was a local rivalry of some kinds, but the fans made Manchester United feel right at home, as in the second half they were attacking the Darwen End, where all the chants and the songs were coming from.
Quite often, the crowd has always been credited as the 12th man in tough games against stubborn opponents, and today was a day where the crowd took to the team and egged and cheered them on till the final whistle. As Sir Alex put it, "They almost sucked that ball into the goal"
6. Let the Kids Play
Let's be honest, we all want Pogba to stay and a lot of kids to come through the Manchester United academy. If Manchester United do manage to secure Title No. 20 with a few games in hand, then some of the reserves and fringe players can be given a bit of game time to show what they're made of.
Paul Pogba, Zeki Fryers and William Keane are some of the players who are tearing apart the reserve league, but Manchester United have a real gem in the form of Mats Daehli, who recently signed pro forms with Manchester United. There's also wonderkid James Wilson, who has already made his reserve debut despite and is currently playing for the U-18 side despite being just 16 years of age.
The academy is bubbling with talent and the best course of action would be to give them a few games in the Barclays Premier League if the title is secured earlier than expected.
7. The Title Is Now Manchester United's to Lose
Manchester United are now five points clear with seven games to go. While on paper the fixtures may look easy, they are anything but.
Queens Park Rangers put up a gallant show against Arsenal and claimed their scalp and Wigan Athletic recently downed Liverpool. These are the two teams Manchester United play next, the former at Old Trafford and the latter at the DW Stadium. They may look easy, but relegation candidates are often the toughest to play against.
But despite all that, it is Manchester United with the relatively easier run of fixtures before the title decider at the Etihad.
While some are suggesting that the title might be decided before that game, let it not fool you. Football is a funny game and no-one better than Sir Alex knows that. Expect him to have his side refreshed and ready for the match against QPR as he'll go head-to-head with his former player Mark Hughes.