Welbeck shows promise of Manchester United’s next generation
Manchester United 3 Totteham Hotspur 0: Danny Welbeck was born in a district of Manchester called Longsight which aptly sums up Sir Alex Ferguson's attitude to his club. This match was a testament to youth and won with all the swagger and optimism of a team that is growing up together.
There is a freshness about Manchester United that was not even present in the "you'll win nothing with kids" season of 1995-96 when the promise of Beckham, Scholes and Butt was leavened by the toughness of Schmeichel, Bruce and Cantona. Here, Wayne Rooney at 25 had the air of a gnarled veteran.
When Welbeck and Tom Cleverley departed for loan spells at Sunderland and Wigan, there were many, perhaps even the players themselves, who doubted they would appear at Old Trafford again, let alone combine for the goal that swung a thrilling contest decisively the way of the champions.
Welbeck said that since he and Cleverley had been playing together since they were kids, he knew instinctively where his cross would land, allowing Welbeck to steal ahead of Michael Dawson to head home his second goal for Manchester United, two years after his first.
Once he had snatched the lead, what followed had a kind of predictability to it. Manchester United have not dropped points here since last autumn and Tottenham's long hoodoo at Old Trafford was never likely to lift.
A goal down, Harry Redknapp gambled with more forwards but the last time Spurs won at Old Trafford, Terry Venables was running things along the Seven Sisters Road and there have been very few Tottenham bets that have paid off here. The gaps began to yawn and United burst through.
As he looked to finish off a one-two with Anderson, Dawson slid in to tackle Welbeck but the young striker managed to backheel the ball into the Brazilian's path and he rammed it home in front of the Stretford End.
Dimitar Berbatov, who spent the night on the bench, might have thought that at 30 Manchester United is suddenly no place for old men. However, Rooney, who has gained hair and lost weight over the summer, was presented with a free header from Ryan Giggs, the kind of cross the Welshman was perfecting before Welbeck was born.
"This result tells you that we still believe in youth," said Ferguson when told that this was the second youngest side he had fielded in the Premier League. "The fans appreciate that and more so when you see the ability they have. This is a group with fantastic ability."
Naturally, Ferguson was not entirely satisfied, pointing out that in the first half both Welbeck and Rooney operated too deep. "We stressed to them at half time that we needed a presence up front."
In every respect this was a night to celebrate. Everyone occupying the home seats at Old Trafford had been given a scarf to commemorate the club's record 19th championship which were held up like a red glacier along the stadium's steepling banks.
The last time United handed out free scarves to their supporters was to mark the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster. The players responded by losing the first Manchester derby at Old Trafford since the afternoon they were relegated in 1974. This was a far more fitting performance.
It was emphasised as early as the eighth minute when Cleverley received a well-judged ball from Ashley Young, took two touches and forced a fine, low save from the 40-year-old Brad Friedel in the Tottenham goal that he was to repeat from Anderson and Rooney early in the second half.
The man at the other end was half his age. There were many waiting to see how David de Gea came to terms with the mental challenge of playing at Old Trafford, something that was always beyond Mark Bosnich, Massimo Taibi and Jim Leighton, 'keepers who had failed Ferguson.
Edwin van der Sar was in the directors' box, gazing down at his successor. He watched De Gea linger over a back-pass from Jonny Evans to be almost dispossessed by Rafael van der Vaart. Later he made a mess of a cross that ended with the ball driven against the post. If he was on trial, the verdict was the Scottish one of "not proven".
De Gea tweeted afterwards that he was happy with the night and aside from his compatriot, Iker Casillas, who won the European Cup as a teenager with Real Madrid, goalkeepers are rarely polished by the time they reach 20.
Beautifully marshalled by Younes Kaboul, Tottenham's defence stood up remarkably well to Manchester United's regular assaults before collapsing after Welbeck's breakthrough. The nearest United came before the interval followed a delicate chip from Rooney that Young headed just past the post.
Just after Manchester United had taken the lead, Niko Kranjcar fouled Patrice Evra on the very limits of the area conceding a free-kick that Rooney curled around the wall and which virtually the entire stadium thought was the second goal until Friedel somehow pushed it around the post. It was one of a stream the American would make throughout the night but you imagine Friedel would remember only the ones that got away. Goalkeepers are like that even at 40.
Manchester United (4-4-2): De Gea; Smalling, Evans, Jones, Evra; Nani, Cleverley (Giggs, 81), Anderson, Young (Park, 81); Welbeck (Hernandez, 80), Rooney. Substitutes not used Lindegaard (gk), Berbatov, Carrick, F Da Silva.
Tottenham (4-4-1-1): Friedel; Walker (Corluka, h-t), Dawson, Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Livermore (Huddlestone, 74), Kranjcar (Pavlyuchenko, 74) Bale; Van der Vaart; Defoe. Substitutes not used Gomes (gk), Jenas, Bassong, Townsend.