United won with the minimum of fuss against West Ham, but this was still a performance very much to get excited about.
Cristiano Ronaldo struck both goals on a night he paraded his World Player of the Year award, while Dimitar Berbatov shone and Carlos Tevez, Nani, Anderson and substitute Wayne Rooney all showed glimpses of why this is one of the finest collections of players Sir Alex has ever had. There were plenty of tricks, flicks, skills and thrills to provide warmth as Manchester’s winter chill made an early appearance.
Sir Alex handed Carlos Tevez his first start in a month against his old club, as Rooney dropped to the bench, while there was no place for birthday boy Edwin van der Sar – he turned 38 today. He was replaced by Tomasz Kuszczak and Rafael was favoured at right-back ahead of Gary Neville and Wes Brown.
United set out with the same attacking intent that has markedly changed the Reds’ goal return in the past month; the first chance came in the third minute when Nani squared the ball to Berbatov, but Hammers skipper Matthew Upson got enough on the ball to deflect the striker’s shot over the bar.
Nani went close himself two minutes later after a neat move from the Reds. Darren Fletcher’s lofted pass was nodded into the Portuguese winger’s path by Anderson, and Nani’s first-time, left-foot shot flew narrowly past the far upright. Whether it had all come a little too easy to Sir Alex’s men in the opening exchanges, a short spell followed where red passes too frequently went astray, and players were caught in possession. But it didn’t last long.
Before kick-off Old Trafford paid tribute to Ronaldo as he collected his FIFPro World Player of the Year accolade on the pitch. So often last season Ronaldo provided the goals just when United needed them, so it was no surprise that he was the man to step forward. Nani was the provider, his