United leapfrogged Arsenal and moved level on points with Chelsea at the top of the league after a comfortable, if unspectacular, victory over nine-man Wigan Athletic.
Patrice Evra put the Reds in front just before half-time after a first 45 minutes that hardly set pulses racing. But it was a rush of blood to the head for Antolin Alcaraz and Hugo Rodallega – both sent off within three second-half minutes – that ultimately sealed Wigan’s demise.
Substitute Javier Hernandez added a second with a little over ten minutes to go, but if there was to be one complaint on a relatively routine afternoon at Old Trafford, it was that the Reds didn’t make more of the numerical advantage for over half an hour of the game.
United were buoyed before kick-off by news of Tottenham Hotspurs’ dramatic, late 3-2 victory over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. The opportunity therefore presented itself to move above the second-placed Gunners, and later to go level on points with league leaders Chelsea, who lost at Birmingham.
Sir Alex recalled Wayne Rooney to his match squad for the first time in over a month, but the 25-year-old was named on the bench as he is being eased back into action. Instead the boss rewarded Federico Macheda, scorer of the goal the sparked the comeback at Villa Park last weekend, with a start. The Italian teenager’s credentials for a starting berth were enhanced with a midweek brace for his country’s Under-21s.
United’s seemingly first-choice back five of Edwin van der Sar, Rafael, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrce Evra sat behind a midfield four of Nani, Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Ji-sung Park, with Gabriel Obertan seeking to support Macheda in an advanced position.