Although United were not at their best on Saturday, they kept several steaks alive while dispatching a Reading squad desperate to dig themselves out of the relegation zone.
Manchester United Starting XI:
Smalling – Ferdinand – Vidic – Buttner
Welbeck – Giggs – Anderson – Young
Rooney – van Persie
Reading Starting XI:
Kelly – Pearce – Mariappa – Shorey
Karacan – Leigertwood – McAnuff – Robson-Kanu – McCleary
Several EPL streaks were kept alive with United’s 1-nil victory at Old Trafford: the Red Devils have won six straight fixtures and now have five straight clean sheets. They are unbeaten in their past 16 Premier League fixtures dating back to November 17th. United have not lost to Reading in any competition since 1927 and have never lost to the Royals at Old Trafford or in Premier League play.
For football purists this was not one of those matches that will go on the shelf to be viewed over and over again. Neither team really dominated in the match for any significant time. It was one of those matches where even though United only had the one goal, they never looked in danger of giving up points in spite of the disjointed play. Reading was reeling a bit with the dismissal of their manager Brian McDermott and did not show much purpose. In fact, their battle plan seemed to largely center around not poking the bear. United, on the other hand, didn’t seem entirely “in” the match – perhaps having trouble taking the Royals seriously due to their position on the table. It’s a costly attitude, typically unhealthy in the premiership, but they got away with it on Saturday.
Reading started each of the halves putting pressure on the United goal and forcing play, but after about 10 minutes they seemed to lose their nerve and fell back to defend. United ended up with 56% possession in the game, but the Reading defense kept the Red Devils at bay with the exception of Rooney’s goal in the 21st minute. Rio Ferdinand started it off by cutting in front of a Garath McCleary pass and found Rooney in the box just to his left. Rooney’s shot was partially blocked by Alex Pearce but found the back of the net anyway. Taylor, the Reading keeper, had virtually no chance at the deflection, which bounced well over his head. Reading had one chance in the first half, which actually turned out to be their only real chance of the match, when Robson-Kanu’s shot went just wide. The talk of a lacking United defense has faded silently into the night as they now are tied for fourth in the league with 10 clean sheets on the season.
Manchester City did not have a successful a day losing to Everton 2-nil, leaving United 15 points clear at the top of the table with only nine matches remaining. With the magic number now at 13, the only real question remaining for United seems to be whether or not they will string enough wins together to break Chelsea’s single-season points record.
Manchester United Player Ratings (0-10):
Rio Ferdinand, 8 – Ferdinand was notified earlier in the week that he would be re-joining the English international squad and seemed to use today’s match to justify the decision. His terrific play makes him my Man of the Match. He summoned his inner Paul Scholes with his passing today, including the assist to Rooney for the match-winner.
Rooney, 7 – scored the only goal of the day and was a constant source of pressure on the Royals’ net. He also helped keep Reading from getting organized in their offensive third.
Smalling, Vidic, Buttner, 7 – yet another clean sheet – and even though it was produced against a team that has only scored 35 goals, even though there was not a lot of work to do with Reading’s emphasis on defense, every clean sheet is an accomplishment in this league.
Welbeck, Giggs, Anderson, Young, 7 – as you might expect, the midfield were dominant today, especially when United were trying to keep possession in the second half. Giggs looked like 10 years had been taken off the calendar at times, outrunning several Reading players to loose balls.
De Gea, 6 – another clean sheet, yet David did not actually have much to do with it on Saturday. In fact, as has been the case several times during this run, De Gea was hardly necessary.
Young, van Persie, 5 – both seemed ineffective and out of sorts on Saturday. RVP has not seemed himself since his fall into the photographer’s pit and may still be having some lingering effects. He has only scored once in the past 10 games.
The Bottom Line:
United seemed to still be recovering from the events of the previous week and did not play their best. At this point in the season, however, it’s all about results.. just ask City.