Manchester United achieved a most commanding position yet in 2012/13 by edging 15 points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Barclays Premier League in what may prove to be a telling weekend in the title race.
The Reds’ 1-0 win against Reading provided little drama – precisely what Sir Alex would have wanted – and although the precarious winning margin never truly offered a feeling of comfort for United, Wayne Rooney’s scuffed, deflected first-half strike shows that Sir Alex’s men can win ugly as a means to an end.
This wasn’t an epic encounter of which to regale the grandchildren, but then it never needed to be. Manchester City’s 2-0 defeat to Everton earlier in the day presented an opportunity not to be missed heading into the international break.
Sir Alex made eight changes to the team that drew 2-2 with Chelsea in the FA Cup last Sunday. He made clear the impact that mental fatigue had on his squad after the 10-man defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League, and with the forthcoming international break and all the injury perils that entails, he tailored his team to guard freshness and fitness.
Four of the starting eleven – Ryan Giggs, Anderson, Nemanja Vidic and Alexander Büttner – aren’t involved for their countries in the next two weeks. Rafael, Patrice Evra – neither were included - and Michael Carrick were all owed rests after their recent efforts, although the latter came on for the final 16 minutes.
United paired Rooney and van Persie up front for only the fourth time in 2013, while Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young patrolled the right and left flanks respectively, with Giggs and Anderson paired in central midfield.