Battling Blackburn broken down by class
Barcelona (six), Chelsea (five), Liverpool (two), Manchester United (one). FIFA have spoken and their verdict appeared to damn Sir Alex Ferguson's side. Or, at the very least, failed to acclaim enough of them. The 23-man shortlist for the World Player of the Year contained an exclusive set from the Nou Camp and Stamford Bridge, a pair from Merseyside and a solitary player from perhaps the planet's biggest club: Wayne Rooney.
Such lists can be determined by status rather than actual achievements over the preceding 12 months. The fame of supposed superstars appear to influence the judges. Yet for Premier League winners and Champions League finalists, it represented a slight. It reflected Ferguson's reluctance to spend the majority of the proceeds of Cristiano Ronaldo's sale on a marquee player and it highlighted the importance of Rooney.
Six days after his most ineffectual display of the season, in the 2-0 defeat at Anfield, United's talisman ended a six-week wait for a goal. Blackburn were duly dismissed as, given Rovers' failure to take a point on their travels this season, they were expected to be. And along the way, Rooney reiterated his importance to the United cause.
His 87th-minute finish was beautifully taken, a first-time finish diverting Anderson's enticing cross into the far corner of the net. An improvised flick could have brought an earlier strike, Rooney diverting Nani's corner into the side-netting.
His place among the FIFA elite is merited. A glaring absentee from their global galacticos, given his price tag and talent, was Dimitar Berbatov. It is understandable given the Bulgarian's underwhelming debut campaign at Old Trafford. An elegant waster for some, a misunderstood master for others, Berbatov polarises opinions as adeptly as he controls a ball.
He can do so within the space of the same game. Berbatov spent the first half spurning chances. In the second, he conjured a finish of breathtaking brilliance, meeting Patrice Evra's shot with a flick, a turn and a volley, producing placement, precision and panache in an instant. "The quality of Berbatov's flick and volley into the bottom corner was great from their point of view," said Sam Allardyce. "Berbatov has scored a fantastic goal," added Sir Alex Ferguson. Yet it was just a fourth of the season, a meagre tally for a player of Berbatov's ability in a team of United's capabilities. It is an indication that the supply line can be improved - and with Nani exasperating with his wastefulness, it certainly could today - and an indictment of his finishing on other occasions.
But as Ferguson recognised in a lengthy and costly pursuit, he possesses something defiantly different. In sacrificing Carlos Tevez and selling Ronaldo, Berbatov's idiosyncrasies have acquired a greater importance in a side that may be sprinkled with too little stardust (for FIFA's liking anyway).
A 12th win in 14 games is hardly cause for concern, yet the two-goal margin made this United's biggest home victory of the season. They retain the habit of overcoming opponents, but none have been crushed at Old Trafford yet in this campaign.
"It was a good sound solid performance," said Ferguson. "I thought we worked very hard." Indeed, industry was among United's attributes tonight. While Nani, selected to add flair, provided frustration, Antonio Valencia's speed proved more profitable on the opposite flank.
A clean sheet satisfied the manager, especially as it was achieved by a second-string central defensive pair. "If you've got Wes Brown and Jonny Evans as your back-up you're not too bad," Ferguson added. "If you take Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic out of the partnerships in all the division, there's not too many better than Brown and Vidic."
Blackburn, however, felt the shutout was a consequence of a poor decision. Referees have become a cause of controversy at Old Trafford of late. This time, however, the criticisms came from the visiting manager, while Ferguson's opinions are unlikely to provoke an inquest at the FA.
At the start of added time, one Blackburn substitute - Benni McCarthy - shot and after Edwin van der Sar saved, another - Nikola Kalinic - converted the rebound. He was wrongly ruled offside. "He was so far onside it is unbelievable that the assistant referee got it wrong," moaned Allardyce. "It wasn't even close. People will say 'Sam's moaning again' but I like to moan when I know I'm right. And I've been right for ten years managing at this level."
MAN OF THE MATCH: Antonio Valencia - He lacks the flamboyance and the firepower of the departed Ronaldo but the Ecuadorian is quietly making himself a fixture on the right flank.
MANCHESTER UNITED VERDICT: It was an improved display after the substandard showing at Anfield. Bringing Anderson into the midfield made a difference. While Evans and Brown appeared accomplished in defence, they were scarcely tested by Blackburn for the most part.
BLACKBURN VERDICT: Allardyce's side came intent on securing a 0-0 draw which, after conceding 11 goals in their two previous away games, was understandable. Defensively dogged, they impressed with their organisation, with Paul Robinson making a string of saves, mainly from Berbatov, and Gael Givet distinguishing himself with several blocks. Their league position is unflattering but easier fixtures await Rovers.
OBER AND OUT: Gabriel Obertan came on for a delayed Premier League debut, looking rather right-footed for a man deployed on the left. Though Ferguson was encouraged by the Frenchman's display, he was culpable of one appalling miss, shooting wide when the goal gaped. Michael Owen, a late substitute, missed a similarly easy opportunity.