|1||Van der Sar|
the mood, dropping deep to claim plenty of touches on the ball and, as much as he could, influence the match.
Nani had a vehement penalty appeal turned down after Dunne blocked his run inside the area before the Portuguese drew a fine save from Friedel, diving to his left, when he unleashed a rocket from the edge of the box. A save down low to his right from Ryan Giggs proved slightly easier, while Patrice Evra also tested the big American and Berbatov headed a difficult chance over the bar from close range.
United were knocking on the door and a second duly arrived in first-half stoppage time. Rooney again applied the finish – a tap-in from five yards – but, as with the opener, the pass deserved just as much recognition. This time Nani was provider, curling in a sumptuous cross from the right wing that reduced both James Collins and Friedel to spectators as Rooney nipped in behind the big centre-back to sweep home on the half-volley.
At the other end, Villa’s big-money signing Darren Bent miscued a shot on 10 minutes that rolled through tamely to van der Sar. That chance aside, Villa didn’t fashion anything of note for the first 45 minutes.
Gerard Houllier’s men were certainly a shadow of the side that played so well (for 80 minutes, at least) against the Reds back in November. On that day, Villa’s energy and enthusiasm, which stemmed largely from the youthful Marc Albrighton and Barry Bannan, caused United problem after problem. Here at Old Trafford, the Midlanders looked pedestrian at best for long periods.
Stewart Downing and Ashley Young provided the odd creative spark in the final third, but there was little sweat for United’s back four to wipe from their brows as the teams trotted down the tunnel at half-time.