United down Toffees as Los Blancos await

Posted by Mark Payne

Ryan Giggs opens the scoring for Manchester UnitedPA PhotosRyan Giggs opens the scoring for Manchester United

Manchester United roared out of the traps in the most important week of the season so far and Sir Alex Ferguson's team selection left nothing to chance. This 2-0 defeat of Everton was made all the sweeter considering the nature of last year's fixture. "A good weekend for us," deadpanned Sir Alex. 'Good' barely covers it.

It was against these opponents that the going got tough in the 2012 run-in, but there was to be no repeat here and United have the taste of blood in their nostrils now. Everton were assessed, matched and dismissed before half-time and the result never seemed in doubt after Giggs had given the home side a 12th minute lead. "There was a determination about us to make sure we won the match," the manager said. Last year's scars can start to heal now.

Giggs has been assisted in tearing apart defences this term by the ever excellent Robin van Persie. They might as well start inking the Dutchman's goals onto the programs before kick off, so often does he score at home.

It is a dangerous business, but, thanks to City's loss to Southampton, people are starting to dream now. Twelve points is a mighty margin and no team has blown a lead this big, with this many games remaining, in English top-flight history. But Fergie is having none of it: "No, no, no," said the Scot when asked if the title race is over. Across town, Mancini was probably reaching for the Grappa.

One of the key differences between this year and last, in terms of this fixture and indeed the entire campaign, has been the presence of Nemanja Vidic. United have three clean sheets in their last six games and, although not impregnable, they are much sturdier with the Serb in the side. The man is voracious about his profession, one is reminded of Gandalf blocking the Balrog in Lord of the Rings: "You shall not pass!".

The captain's presence, along with Phil Jones's superb shackling of Marouane Fellaini, kept Everton at bay and boosted confidence crucially before Wednesday's grandest of occasions. Cristiano Ronaldo is likely to pose more danger than Leon Osman and co., but entering the Bernabeu with a good result behind you is the best way to arrive. "We're going there with a team that's in good form," said Ferguson.

Whether Jones is dispatched to control Ronaldo midweek remains to be seen. The former United man scored an ominous hat-trick at the weekend and will be as keen as anyone else to arrest the Madrid team's disastrous season.

The watching Jose Mourinho said "the world was waiting" for Wednesday's match. Whilst United enter the fray with their league campaign as strong as possible, Madrid's is in tatters. They lie 16 points behind Barcelona and with only Europe to play for. The wait is almost over, this week the titans will clash. And United are ready.

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