Vintage Van der Sar proves worth to United

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The Independent Football

Edwin van der Sar's goalkeeping heroics at Manchester United are now so common that they are taken for granted. Although the veteran Dutchman endured a dodgy spell compared to his usual high standards at the end of last season, he confirmed his return to top form with an outstanding performance in the Champions League win over Sporting Lisbon.

The 36-year-old made two magnificent stops to deny Liedson and Tonel, ensuring United opened their latest European campaign in the best manner possible and nudging past Cristiano Ronaldo for the man-of-the-match prize. Sir Alex Ferguson has been so impressed by Van der Sar's contribution since a £2m move from Fulham in 2005 that he now rates the 36-year-old as one of his best purchases as Old Trafford manager.

Stand-in captain Ryan Giggs believes the former Ajax star's value can be seen in how his team-mates regard him.

"Edwin didn't put a foot wrong," said Giggs. "He could quite easily have spilled some of the shots he had to save because the pitch was quite bumpy. But he made it look quite easy.

"He has a calming effect on the whole team because he doesn't make that many mistakes. He has been doing it for so long now, you take it for granted."

Four clean sheets and four successive single-goal wins suggest United are getting it right defensively this season, even if they are struggling to find the most effective blend up front. Their latest shut-out means United were able to improve a poor record of just two wins in 14 previous away trips in the Champions League.

Giggs believes the sturdiness of United's rearguard means they are well equipped to go a stage further than their semi-final appearance in last season's competition.

"Defensively, we were very good," he said. "We all know how important it is to keep clean sheets because with the amount of talent in this team, we will create chances. All we need to do is get that last pass, or that last decision right and the goals will come."

Ferguson's men are now on a roll and can approach Sunday's meeting with Chelsea in confident mood. "Hopefully we can go on an unbeaten run," said Giggs. "Each win breeds confidence and we hope to take that into Sunday."

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