So it's back to normal after the long international break which thankfully saw England confirm their qualification for next year's World Cup in Germany. Today's challenge for Manchester United, as we look to continue building a decent run of form, is a journey across England to the North East to face struggling new boys Sunderland.
Continuing our recent tradition of fielding a different team every week, today's lineup features Edwin van der Sar in goal, a back four of Barsdsley-Ferdinand-Silvestre-O'Shea (Bardsley is in because of Richardson's injury), an attacking midfield of Park-Smith-Scholes-Ronaldo with Rooney playing a free role behind van Nistelrooy. On the bench are Howard, Fletcher, Miller, Rossi and Pique. I presume Giggs is injured although nothing has been said by club or media.
For the record, Sunderland line up like this:- K Davis, N Nosworthy, G Breen, S Caldwell, J Hoyte, L Lawrence, D Whitehead, T Miller, A Welsh, S Elliott, A Gray and their subs are C Robinson, J Stead, B Alnwick, D Collins, A Le Tallec. Full squad details for them are here.
What's clear right from the start is that Sunderland, having not lost their last three games, are keen not to lose again and so defend deeply. I think it's going to take a while to break them down, even with the attacking lineup we have today.
Sure enough, things tend to bog down in midfield as Sunderland appear to be playing practically 5-4-1. Over 15 minutes have passed before the home team even try and look at the United penalty area but they never looked like scoring.
It carries on like that for what seems like forever until, with only a few minutes to half time, Ferdinand, who is playing better than of late, clears a rare Sunderland free kick and the ball reaches Rooney who steps forward and slams the ball into the corner of the net from close range. It's a GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLL and 0-1 to United!
That's the best moment of a first half that has been more like a home match for the Red Devils as they attack at will and Sunderland play deep and look for the occasional counter.
After the break, nothing has changed, no substitutions by either side and no change in tactics as United look to build on their lead and Sunderland dream of an equalizer, but somehow you can feel they lack the necessary belief.
United seem to want to spread the goalscoring load, not leaving it all up to Ruud and Rooney, and there are useful shots at goal from both Park and Ronaldo, both just kept out by the stretched Sunderland defence. Nothing really worth reporting until, with quarter of an hour left in the game, a sweeping United attack sees Rooney reach Ruud with a clever pass from the right and the Dutch goalmaster makes no mistake, stabbing the ball into the back of the net. GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLL and 0-2 to United!
Ruud van Nistelrooy
Sir Alex clearly think that's job done and replaces van Nistelrooy with American-born Italian striker Guiseppe Rossi. He's no sooner come on than commits handball in the Sunderland half. From the resulting free kick, Sunderland charge forward and striker Stephen Elliott shoots diagonally from the right and it's GOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLL, only seven minutes to go and it's 1-2. Can Sunderland get another goal or will United hang on?
The question becomes academic with three minutes left when Rossi caps a busy if brief Premiership debut with an impressively taken goal, shooting leftfooted into the right corner and it's GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLL and 1-3 to United.
That's about it bar the singing and the United team and fans can go home feeling satisfied with the day's work, another victory and three more points towards what is certainly going to be a season long chase after the impressive, if lucky, Chelsea.
This review is also cross-posted here at the mighty BlogCritics.