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Aug 22, 2011

Loan stars profit for United

Among the many problems with the world's economy, we are told, is the reluctance to lend financial institutions are displaying. One economic powerhouse behaves rather differently. Besides borrowing hundreds of millions because of their Glazer-incurred debts, the bank of Manchester United is a generous lender, largely because it can profit.

There are times when graduates of the most prolific production line around are scattered across the divisions and, while Sir Alex Ferguson's munificence has helped many of a less fortunate counterpart, these are no charitable gestures. The dividends reaped by the 2010-11 season are Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck, each at least 30 percent more accomplished after a season of schooling in first-team football at Wigan and Sunderland respectively.

They combined beautifully for the first, and crucial, goal as United earned their annual home win against Tottenham. For good measure, Welbeck's delightful backheel set up Anderson for their second goal. The loan rangers have returned with interest.

The gems polished at Wigan and Sunderland are becoming the personification of the new United: untried and adventurous. You can win plenty with kids, as United can testify, even if a 37-year-old supplied their third, Ryan Giggs lofting a cross on to Wayne Rooney's newly hirsute head. And yet Tottenham - or, to be precise, Brad Friedel - had held out for an hour before Cleverley exchanged passes with Chris Smalling, another of the next generation and delivered a cross that Welbeck rose and headed in. "He's a big rangy, long-legged boy who can gallop really quickly once he gets his legs going," said Ferguson, describing the striker but sounding as though he was discussing one of his racehorses. "He's got a great future."

His goal illustrated Welbeck's athleticism. Proof of his awareness came a quarter of an hour later. A quick, slick move that epitomised United culminated in Anderson angling a pass to Welbeck. The striker flicked it back as, in a match with a conspicuous lack of defensive midfielders, Anderson went untracked to slide his shot in.

Then Giggs, who has been accorded veteran status for half a decade, set up Rooney to complete a comfortable triumph, a somewhat fitting ending to a tale of young and old. Defensive injuries meant Phil Jones' full debut was enforced, but it was also auspicious. Except in a straight sprint with Gareth Bale, the 19-year-old looked every inch a United player, performing with precocious assurance, passing with class and, in a fit of enthusiasm, even closing down Friedel.

"An absolutely fantastic young player," added Ferguson. "We tried to get him in November. Chris Smalling did a great job at right back; you'd think he had played there all his life. We've always had confidence to play young players but this group have got fantastic ability."

The one element of Ferguson's futuristic project which is less more uncertain is in goal. David de Gea's first clean sheet in England was notable for some fine distribution but also for a couple more errors: by flapping at a Vedran Corluka cross, he allowed Jermain Defoe to hook an effort against the woodwork, while a later shot from Tom Huddlestone was spilled. That apart, De Gea's evening consisted of fielding long-range shots from the trying Dutchman, the persistent Rafael van der Vaart, but he was spared a trial by set-pieces, Spurs strangely neglecting to pressurise him in the way West Brom had.

The scrutiny on the young Spaniard will continue. While it was coincidental, it was scarcely helpful that his predecessor popped in - surely the newly retired aren't advised to return to their old workplace this quickly? - with Edwin van der Sar a spectator.

Indeed, there were 40-year-olds in the directors' box and the opposition goal alike. Free transfers can be deceptively costly, but Friedel spared Spurs a thrashing with a string of saves on his debut. After a similarly defiant display on this turf for the New York Cosmos in Paul Scholes' testimonial, Old Trafford is becoming the land of the Friedel, such is the American's ability to excel. His selection was one talking point, although no one was sufficiently brave to ask Harry Redknapp what the score would have been had he picked Heurelho Gomes instead

Redknapp maintained his 100% record in the Premier League at Old Trafford - 14 defeats out of 14 - but the more telling statistic was United's average age, making them the second youngest side Ferguson has fielded in this division. Not for the first time, the kids are alright.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Brad Friedel - United produced a host of candidates and Tottenham a solitary one but, while their manager claimed to be delighted with Spurs' performance for 70 minutes, much of the second half seemed to be a contest between the league champions and the visiting goalkeeper. For all his late saves, however, his first, to thwart Cleverley when he appeared unsighted, might have been the best.

MANCHESTER UNITED VERDICT: A terrific team performance with Rooney impressing again, Ashley Young and Nani twin threats on the flanks and Anderson again showing signs of maturing. They may need to be more cautious in certain away games, but their commitment to attack makes them very watchable.

TOTTENHAM VERDICT: They often start well at Old Trafford and invariably lose, so this was a familiar tale. In the centre of midfield, where Redknapp said the substitute Huddlestone and the unused Jermaine Jenas were nowhere near match fit, resources are particularly stretched, especially in Luka Modric's absence. Redknapp attributed the late goals to his decision to move Van der Vaart back into the centre of midfield as Roman Pavlyuchenko came on, resulting in a very open game.

MODRIC LATEST: Redknapp believes his unsettled midfielder will remain at White Hart Lane. "It's been a problem but it will get resolved, he'll stay and we can move on," he said. "We will keep him. I'm sure he'll stay. The chairman has made his mind up." It may be a test of Redknapp's man-management if the Croatian is still among his charges on September 1, but he is confident that bridges can be rebuilt. "If anyone can, I can, I have got a great relationship with him," he added. He is hopeful that Emmanuel Adebayor and Lassana Diarra will arrive.

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