Body language barrier keeps Berbatov quiet

The invitation on one of the Old Trafford advertising hoardings reads: "Rewrite the rules of speed." It is the one promoting the boots worn by Wayne Rooney, whom the TV monitors captured sitting in the shadows at the back of an executive box yesterday, and it provided a painfully ironic commentary on the course of Manchester United's afternoon. No one in red was tearing up a rulebook, least of all Dimitar Berbatov, who could merely tear his hair out as the moment to make a serious demonstration of his £30.75m worth came and went.

Berbatov can be as demonstrative on the field of play as Rooney, at times, though the gestures and the grimaces tend to come when the course of a match is not running smoothly. There were a few of those gestures aimed at Antonio Valencia when the game had ticked beyond its 10th minute and Berbatov endeavoured to delay a pass to Valencia's right flank and spring the offside trap. Valencia waited; Berbatov waited, but there was no intuition between the two when the ball finally left the Bulgarian's right boot and it ran out into touch. Berbatov stared to the heavens. The game had moved on by several phases of football before he had finished gesticulating to his team-mate how that run might have been timed.

Crystallised in that single misunderstanding was the essence of what United had been deprived of by the loss of Rooney. The understanding between the Englishman and the Ecuadorean has seemed telepathic at times in the course of the past six weeks. Twice in Milan alone, Valencia served up crosses on to Rooney's head to score. But that's all gone for now. Valencia had the beating of Yuri Zhirkov in the first 10 minutes yesterday but when he left the Russian on his backside and crossed, Berbatov was only halfway into the penalty area. His header sailed over.

Ryan Giggs did not find Berbatov in much better humour. A ball down the left channel into the striker was blocked by Alex. A second reached the spot where he imagined the striker would make his run. Now it was Giggs' turn to throw up his hands. When Park Ji-Sung succeeded where the other providers had failed, spinning around on to Gary Neville's pass to play Berbatov through, Old Trafford held its breath. Frank Lampard's superior powers of anticipation – his left foot tackle came with no margin for error in the penalty area – killed the danger.

United staggered out of their torpor after the interval, though Berbatov still looked like an individual out of sync with his team-mates. There was a bad moment just before the hour when a darting run on to a Giggs free-kick left him off balance, stumbling towards the dead-ball line – and offside anyhow.

By the time his cleanest scoring opportunity arrived in the 90th minute – courtesy of one of many fine crosses delivered from Neville's right boot – his confidence was so shot at that stage that he failed to make a good connection. He smacked his knees in frustration at the end of an afternoon when one of the unflattering statistics of his season – he is yet to score against a side positioned higher than eighth in the Premier League table – came back to haunt United.

Berbatov's failure to ignite was not entirely self-inflicted – far from it. He might not rewrite the rules of speed but he can rewrite the laws of a football's motion when the right passes are played into him. There were none of those here. It was a rare afternoon when the presence of Giggs, Paul Scholes and Neville in the same starting XI made United seem aged, rather than evergreen.

The contrast when the Italian striker Federico Macheda arrived was palpable. He did not know much about the goal and there was a serious suspicion of handball to it but the 19-year-old, who has been through a yoga routine in the past year to help build him up physically, does make things happen. Three goals in six League appearances, and all of them during title run-ins. He wears a snappy pair of boots, too. The ones they promote on that advertising hoarding.

Top of the table


Chelsea 33/23/5/5/84/30/74

Man Utd 33/23/3/7/77/27/72

Arsenal 33/22/5/6/75/34/71

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk