All talk about Manchester United in recent months has included at least some mention of Cristiano Ronaldo.
This comes as no surprise, as the Portuguese midfielder is having the season of his career, notching 37 goals in all competitions, 27 coming in the Premiership.
But after watching the match against Middlesbrough on Sunday, a new hero has emerged, one whose efforts may well be the difference which boosts United to the title. The new hero is an old face: the face of goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar.
Perhaps the best support for this claim is the oft quoted adage “Offense wins games. Defense wins championships.” Ronaldo, Rooney, Saha et al will provide numerous goals to power United through much of the season. But those games are not the ones which win the Premiership.
The crucial games are the scrappy ones, games against lower-table opponents who suddenly find an inspiration of play they normally do not have. And in these games this season, Mr Van der Sar has proven himself invaluable to the Red Devils’ quest for the cup, none more so than today’s match with Boro.
A draw is not what Manchester United needed in light of Chelsea’s 2-0 win against Man City. There are precious few games left in this season, and United cannot afford to drop points. But a loss would have been disastrous, as they still have matches against Arsenal and at Chelsea.
Granted, bravos are appropriate for the goal scorers Ronaldo and Rooney, as well as Carrick and Park who did much of the work to set up the goals.
But it was Van der Sar who was most important to United’s draw today.
Throughout much of the season, Sir Alex’s defense has proven quite good, allowing only few goals this season. However, that defense, specifically the center, was rather porous today.
The absence of Nemanja Vidic caused problems for United’s defense, as his replacement John O’Shea had a sub-par performance. Were it not for the heroics of Van der Sar, United may well have found themselves surprise losers to Boro.
These are the critical moments of the season, and Mr. Van der Sar is delivering after returning from injury.
It is at this point that I think due credit should be given to Tomasz Kuszczak for his performances. This perennial second-teamer has stepped into the top spot nicely during Van der Sar’s spell with injury, providing a valuable service to United’s quest.
And now that Van der Sar has returned, Mr. Kuszczak must take his place with the reserves once again, a task which cannot be easy. But he should take solace in knowing that he has played an integral part in whatever United manages to achieve this season.
And while some are praising his efforts today, no doubt by the end of the week most will have moved on to consider another United player. Thoughts will undoubtedly turn again to Rooney and Ronaldo, and for good reason.
But Mr. van der Sar will still be there, ready to perform his duty and keep his team in reach of victory.
As many are celebrating the glamour of goal-scoring, today I take time to applaud Edwin Van der Sar—for his dynamite performance today, and for his dynamite performances throughout the entire season.
And I suspect we can expect many more dynamite performances from this Dutch international in the weeks to come.