Sir Alex Ferguson will take much heart from victory over Champions Chelsea at Wembley following a summer of minimal investment and a public declaration of faith in his squad. Manchester United swept aside the tepid Londoners, with Mexican striker Javier Hernández, Dimitar Berbatov and Antonio Valencia on the scoresheet.
Ferguson’s men largely monopolised possession, save for a late Chelsea rally which brought Salmon Kalou’s 82nd minute goal, in a match regarded as little more than a final pre-season warm up by both sides.
Prior to the Ivorian’s strike United had taken the lead through Valencia’s 41st minute goal after Wayne Rooney’s outstanding right-wing pass, with Hernández scoring in off his own face with 15 minutes to go in a promising competitive début.
Man-of-the-match Paul Scholes rolled back the years to deliver an outstanding display of passing on Wembley’s relaid turf, although Chelsea’s parsimonious attitude towards marking the 35-year-old allowed the time and space in which the midfielder thrives. If United is truly not going to reinforce in midfield this summer then Scholes’ form and fitness must belie his advancing years.
Perhaps even more importantly United’s striker Wayne Rooney – unsurprisingly booed by Chelsea fans, many of whom will turn out to support England at Wembley on Wednesday night – impressed during a 45 minute first half work out. The striker looked sharper than at any time prior to his March ankle injury against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
Indeed, Rooney’s vision to set up Valencia for the opening goal underlines the striker’s brilliance. The former Evertonian turned blind on the right wing, firing into the six yard area to leave winger Valencia with a simple finish.
The goal came shortly after Rooney’s 60-yard pass had created the game’s opening chance for the Ecuadorian who failed to lift over the advancing Chelsea goalkeeper.
Rooney departed for débutant Hernández at half-time and United noticeably sought out the speedy striker with direct balls over John Terry’s back-four. The Mexican’s pace will surely be an outstanding weapon this season even if a period of bedding into Premier League football is required.
Yet Ferguson reserved the largest slice of praise for the Mexican’s second-half striker partner Berbatov, who scored late into injury time by lobbing over Henrique Hilário to seal United’s victory just as Chelsea pressed for an equaliser.
“He needed it [a goal] given the adverse publicity he had last season. It’s an old problem when we pay big money for someone and they are not scoring three goals a game and making 50 passes, they get slaughtered,” said Ferguson of the £30.5 million Bulgarian striker.
“But there’s no disputing his talent; he can be a genius. He had a mixed season by his standards but maybe this will be his season.”
The result, certainly just due to United’s superior possession, could have turned late into the second half when Ferguson’s defence sustained a period of pressure from last season’s double winners.
Even before the Londoners late onslaught Edwin van der Sar saved superbly from Bratislav Ivanovic’s powerful first half header. Further saves by the Dutchman from Florent Malouda, twice, Ashley Cole and Daniel Sturridge in the second half kept United ahead.
However, United and Scholes in particular took the plaudits in front of more than 30,000 delighted United supporters in North West London. The midfielder’s brilliance is beyond doubt; his ability to perform every week is however and that is where United may just fall short this season.
It is not with any surprise that newspaper reports again linked United – and Chelsea – today to a £13.5 million bid for Germany’s ‘ghost’ Mesut Ozil.
“He’s just an incredible footballer,” said Ferguson of 35-year-old Scholes.
“It’s a phenomenon that he goes out there and becomes man of the match, approaching his 36th birthday.”
“This time last year, he’s saying to himself, ‘This is my last season’ – and a lot of people thought that,” Ferguson said.
“It came across my mind also, simply because he’s had a lot of injuries in his career. He keeps coming back; it’s not easy to do that.”
No need to worry about retirement today though with Ferguson rightly reserving the last word for the ginger midfielder.