United back in pole

 

Man United 2 Man City 0:Manchester United reclaimed top spot in the Premier League and edged ever closer to retaining their title with a 2-0 win over local rivals Manchester City at Old Trafford. Cristiano Ronaldo gave the homeside the lead with an 18th minute deflected free-kick and Carlos Tevez proved a point with a stunning finish on the stroke of halftime.

United are now three points ahead of Liverpool with a game in hand against Wigan to come on Wednesday. Should they win against Steve Bruce’s side and garner a point from the meeting with Arsenal on Saturday, they will have successfully defended their title before the Merseysiders have kicked another ball.

Tevez was this morning reported as claiming he was resigned to leaving Old Trafford but returned to the starting line-up this afternoon and grabbed the chance to impress with both hands.

He was lively throughout and before scoring hit the post with a superb curling effort that left Shay Given rooted. His goal sealed the win before he was denied by the post again when bravely attempting to head home Darren Fletcher’s glancing effort late in the second half.

The United fans have made their feelings perfectly clear for a long time now, bellowing ‘Sign him up’ at regular intervals.

However, it has to be asked whether, in the present economic climate, £30million can be justified on a player like Tevez, a bustling, energetic striker, yet one who does not possess the extra class of a Ronaldo.

Tevez insisted this morning he would still give his all while in United colours and he was true to his word in a rare 90 minute display, but the real moment of class came when he collected Dimitar Berbatov’s short pass a minute before the break, took aim, and crashed his 20-yard shot off Given’s left-hand post and in.

His reaction was instant. He raced straight to the halfway line, directly in front of the dug-outs, waving away all team-mates, and stood, cupping his hands to his ears listening to the cacophony of noise.

Directly opposite, Ferguson celebrated too, a rueful smile spreading across his face. Above him, chief executive David Gill looked down, knowing he will be the one who has to ask for — and then write — the cheque should the Glazer family agree Tevez’s registration should be extracted from Kia Joorabchian.

United fans spent half-time knowing they were taking a significant step towards their 18th title, while Liverpool’s hopes of preventing their recor d being equalled were evaporating on the back of a City side who played good football without threatening the home goal.

Mark Hughes knows all too well the standards United have been performing to for almost two decades now, but there is clearly still a very long way to go before his side can compete for anything more than scraps off the champions’ table.

Indeed, if Tevez’s prodding goes unheeded by United, it is a fair bet the Welshman was listening too as he assessed the next move forward for his club, who still harbour hopes of a place in the new Europa League.

Ronaldo, incidentally, was substituted on the hour, to be replaced by Wayne Rooney.

The decision did not go down well. Ronaldo’s future has also been the subject of intense speculation and he angrily swiped away the offer of a refreshments from a United staff member before taking his seat in the dug-out.

"He wanted to stay on," Ferguson joked afterwards. "He is in great form. But I've got to look at the big picture.

"I've got to think about keeping our players as fresh as we can for the games ahead."

A further problem arose for Ferguson in an apparent hamstring injury suffered by Jonny Evans, who was only called into battle himself when Rio Ferdinand suffered a calf injury in training yesterday.