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Real Madrid are top of the class

Power Rankings about an hour ago
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Dec 3, 2007

Latin temperament flourishes at Old Trafford

While the Stretford End adopted a refrain of 'Argentina, Argentina' several years ago, Manchester United's experience of South Americans has been largely chastening. Their fondest memory of Juan Sebastian Veron is Chelsea offering £15 million for the great underachiever.

On the basis of his Old Trafford career, Kleberson ranks among the least distinguished World Cup winners seen in the Premier League. Diego Forlan's popularity derived from his efforts rather than his achievements while the supporters' relationship with Gabriel Heinze, the subject of genuine affection, turned sour when he committed blasphemy in the eyes of the United support by being tempted to join Liverpool.

So Anderson and Carlos Tevez represent trailblazers, representatives of arguably the world's two greatest sources of footballing talent at one of its leading clubs. The indications are that United will derive a far greater long term benefit from their recent imports than previous South Americans.

As Cristiano Ronaldo, with his second double in as many Premier League games, restored United to second place, the Brazilian and the Argentine demonstrated why they may be able to supply eyewitness accounts of the Portuguese's brilliance for the next decade.

But even a rampant Ronaldo may find much to admire when he considers the players Sir Alex Ferguson has surrounded him with. Alternating with Wayne Rooney in the most advanced role as the two short, squat strikers outmanoeuvred an inadequate Fulham defence, it was an evening when Tevez was a tormentor, but not a scorer.

Indeed, it provided evidence why the Argentine is unlikely to ever rival Ruud van Nistelrooy's scoring feats, but he is a very different type of forward. Although he is not sufficiently clinical, there is a persistence about the Tevez's game as he had two opportunities within the first five minutes alone and five of merit in the first half. A goal eluded him, but the ease with which he consistently eluded Fulham's overworked centre-backs was testament to his work ethic.

While Tevez's finishing could be faulted, there was another major reason why he must wait for his seventh United goal. After one Ryan Giggs cross, it took a magnificent point-blank block from Antti Niemi to divert a volley wide.

With the other South American in fine form behind him, there was an ample supply of opportunities. Creativity must be accompanied by combativity, however. Ferguson has also long valued a sense of steel in the centre of the pitch and Anderson, who appeared a little lethargic in his early outings, now seems to possess the energy and purpose required. Indeed, his athleticism showed why he has supplanted Michael Carrick in the position alongside Owen Hargreaves.

Anderson's economical short passing was married with an ability to apply a devilish bend to his delivery from distance while the combination of a left- and a right-footer in the centre of midfield naturally lends balance. The former proved capable of supplying the incisive ball. One delightful lob over the Fulham defence for Tevez, wrongly adjudged offside, was an indication of his vision. Only a wayward effort from long range let him down, and Anderson is yet to open his United account.

'There were too many chances missed,' said Ferguson, probably with Tevez in mind. 'We're usually better than that. But when we put our foot on the gas, we looked like we could score goals all the time.

'It was a reasonable performance, not great, but we won the match.' They did so thanks to two corners. A fallibility at set-pieces is not something that would have been associated with a Sanchez side prior to this season, but substandard defending continues to afflict Fulham.

Indeed, Steven Davis, by diverting the ball back into Nemanja Vidic's path, almost qualified for an assist for his contribution for the first goal as Fulham failed to clear a Giggs corner, Brown returned it to Ronaldo, whose volley was emphatic.

If defeat at Bolton had supplied a wake-up call of the dangers of the Premier League's lesser lights, they nevertheless took an excessive amount of time to score the decisive second goal against Fulham.

Ronaldo provided it. His seventh in five games also followed a corner, played short by Giggs to John O'Shea, whose cross was met by the winger, out-jumping a static Dejan Stefanovic to head in.

It was a level of defending that upset the Fulham manager. Sanchez said: 'To be honest, we had discussions down there about it. It's not good enough. We can't afford to give goals away like that having worked so hard. It's responsibility, concentration, all those things.'

So United recorded a seventh successive home win. Finding opponents as obliging as Fulham always helps. Only their resident Old Trafford specialist, Danny Murphy, threatened, drawing a fine save from Edwin van der Sar and then curling a shot inches wide. Their other notable chances fell to Shefki Kuqi, but his radar was, rather predictably, askew.

'We need to concentrate on winning games we're more capable of winning,' added Sanchez. Ones where Ronaldo is not in the opposing line-up, for instance.

• MAN OF THE MATCH: Cristiano Ronaldo - Utterly rampant. Paul Konchesky was the latest left-back to be embarrassed as Ronaldo, runner-up in the European Footballer of the Year award, began his candidacy for the 2008 prize.

• MOAN OF THE MATCH: Rob Styles capped another weekend of refereeing mishaps by booking Ronaldo for diving when, trying to hurdle Niemi, he tumbled. 'A ridiculous decision,' said Ferguson, who expected a penalty. In accusing Niemi of conning the referee, it was harder to agree with him, but Keith Hackett, the referees' supremo, must be in for an unpleasant week analysing the decisions taken by Styles, Steve Bennett and Phil Dowd over the last two days.

• MAN UNITED VERDICT: The lessons of Bolton appeared to have been learned. The strongest available side played and did so with a swagger. As preparations continue for the trip to Anfield in 13 days' time, they are in fine shape.

• FULHAM VERDICT: Only the excellent Niemi prevented a rout. Sanchez spent £26million in the summer yet, though Murphy, Davis and Simon Davies are tidy footballers, this is a team with a flimsy spine and lacking in at least three departments. Without a dominant central defender, a strong defensive midfielder and a striker superior to Kuqi, a relegation battle beckons.


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