United fall in with the goal rush

Manchester United 5 Tottenham Hotspur 2

So what wonderments does British football's next main midweek event have in store? Eight more goals, to add to the 16 Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal have conjured up in two games over the past fortnight? It's not so inconceivable, because long after Cristiano Ronaldo had put his shirt back on and Rafael Benitez, you imagined, had jabbed the TV feed off somewhere around Leeds on the road home from Hull, the notion surfaced of Theo Walcott cutting a dash down Old Trafford's right touchline in Wednesday night's Champions League semi final first leg. It was one to keep a 67-year-old football manager awake at night.

Unassailable though Sir Alex Ferguson's side's Premier League lead is beginning to look, his defence are cursed by an unpredictability which offers a fine advertisement for the longevity of the most drawn-out season in modern times. Patrice Evra has not looked secure since encountering Aaron Lennon in the Carling Cup Final on 1 March and after another afternoon of cold sweats as the 22-year-old danced around him, he has reason to fear Arsenal's similar kind of Englishman doing him some serious damage. "I've always rated Evra as the best left-back in the league along with Ashley Cole," Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham manger, said diplomatically. "But he has had problems with Aaron." Ferguson can only thank heavens that Andrei Arshavin is cup-tied for Wednesday.

Asking United to play towards the Stretford End first on Saturday evening had not, Redknapp later revealed, been part of a plan to have their defence staring into the sun, but every defender was vulnerable. Rio Ferdinand, watching Lennon's first teasing cross of the evening loop over his head, allowed Darren Bent a free hit; Nemanja Vidic, missing the next 20 minutes later, on to which Bent pounced; Rafael da Silva, loafing around near the penalty spot as the man he failed utterly to mark, Luka Modric, fastened on to Lennon's third fine ball, five yards away. Ferguson saw Rafael's hacks at Modric before referee Howard Webb did and removed him.

Howard Webb: a name to bolster Benitez's conviction that his "facts" about officials at Old Trafford were right and one whose decision to penalise Heurelho Gomes for clawing a ball away from Michael Carrick might have decided the title race. "The fourth official is stood there and what is he doing?" Redknapp said. "They ask you to sit down, don't stand outside the square and all that. I've said it for a long time that they should be there to watch the screen. Use the technology."

Video evidence would also preserve Webb from some of the more injudicious responses to his decision which was wrong but not abysmally so, given the several replays needed to unravel it. Jermaine Jenas suggested that Webb "didn't even think" and had "already made his mind up when he came out for the second half that he was going to give something. That was a prime example of a referee crumbling over pressure. The atmosphere, the occasion, the importance of the match, a lot of factors take their toll."

As sometimes happens when his side have won, Ferguson accepted the Spurs case – "they will be unhappy, I can understand that" – and though the arrival of Carlos Tevez pepped up United and Wayne Rooney's energy was indomitable in the 22 extraordinary minutes it took them to score five, the individual who most mocked football's fickleness was Dimitar Berbatov. His shirt stayed on when he scored, of course, and the goal was not majestic but any one of a dozen gracefully unlaboured moments demonstrate that genius like his cannot be measured out in drab statistics, as those who question him seem to wish it.

The angular passes which helped engineer two of the goals; a stunning first half chest cushion and swivel past Wilson Palacios; the wondrous 83rd-minute ball which sent Ronaldo scampering away for what might have been a hat-trick – all contributions from a player Viv Anderson suggested last week was a latter-day Gary Birtles, struggling to live with what Old Trafford brings. Laughable. As Ferguson reflected: "He produces moments that you say: 'that's world class.'" So much so that the club were keen to distance themselves from reports that they are to sign Milan's Kaka in the summer.

Tottenham's capitulation was horrible but there were enough individual performances to show that a Europa League place might be theirs. "I'd like to think that we will be pushing the top four with Villa and Everton next year," Redknapp said. United's challenges are more immediate so don't look away yet. It is anyone's guess what they will bring.

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): Van der Sar; Rafael (O'Shea, 70), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Carrick, Fletcher (Scholes, 61); Ronaldo, Rooney, Nani (Tevez, h-t); Berbatov. Substitutes not used: Foster (gk), Anderson, Evans, Macheda.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-1-1) Gomes; Corluka, Woodgate, King, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Palacios, Jenas, Modric (Bale, 86); Keane (Huddlestone, 87); Bent. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Hutton, Zokora, Bentley, Chimbonda.

Referee: H. Webb (S Yorkshire).

Booked: Manchester United Tevez, Scholes, Ronaldo; Tottenham Woodgate, Jenas, Gomes.

Man of the match: Rooney

Attendance: 75,458

News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
News
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
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
and  

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

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own