Youth takes centre stage as the second youngest Red Devils side in their Premier League history cruise past Tottenham with a convincing 3-0 victory at Old Trafford
By Greg Stobart at Old Trafford
How appropriate that it was a local boy born in an area of Manchester called Longsight who broke the deadlock at Old Trafford on Monday night.
"There's no better feeling, being a Manc kid," beamed Danny Welbeck after his goal at the Stretford End sent Manchester United's vibrant young team on their way to a comfortable 3-0 victory over Tottenham.
The United starting line-up chosen by Sir Alex Ferguson had an average age of just over 23 – the second youngest Premier League team he has ever picked – but the players responded by ripping Tottenham to shreds with a simply awesome second-half display.
As 75,000 buoyant United supporters left the ground the optimism for what this side could achieve was palpable. Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones impressed in particular as Sir Alex's side produced a display that bore more than a few echoes of the class of 1995-96 which saw breakthrough seasons for Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Nicky Butt.
When Welbeck and Cleverley departed on loan to Sunderland and Wigan respectively before the start of last season, there was a feeling that they may never come back. Certainly in Welbeck's case, he was considered by many as a League Cup player, a talented individual but not good enough to make the grade at the highest level.
Wel in | Danny Welbeck's display on Monday night vindicated United's loan policy
Yet here, in the Red Devils' first home game of their title defence against a talented Spurs side, it was the two youngsters who combined in the 61st minute to put the 19-times champions in the lead. Cleverley, 22, whipped in a lovely cross from the right and Welbeck showed his predatory instincts to drift between the two centre-backs and glance an accurate header into the net. It was the 20-year-old's second league goal for the club, and it came two years after his first.
It was a goal that rewarded the incredible squad building that Sir Alex has done at Old Trafford, that fully justified the club's policy of sending young players out on loan to gain Premier League experience. Of course, most players that come through the academy will fail, but with two or three top prospects emerging from the latest production line, we could be set for another golden generation at Old Trafford.
Yes, it feels a little premature, but United's substitutes here summed up the current health of the squad as Ryan Giggs, Park Ji-Sung and Javier Hernandez – perhaps representing past, present and future – were introduced to the game.
“I’m pleased because it tells you that we still believe in young players, the fans appreciate that, more so when you see the ability they’ve got,” reflected Sir Alex after the game. “We have always had the confidence to play young players. This group has fantastic ability.”
“We have always had the confidence to play young players. This group has fantastic ability”
Welbeck in particular seems to have benefited from his time on loan at Sunderland, where he appeared to transform from a decent young player in the mould of Fraizer Campbell to a highly promising talent.
The striker will only get better in this United side, where his alert football brain and quick one-touch passing offers much-needed fluidity and creativity to break down opposing teams.
As soon as Welbeck's header hit the back of the net, you knew this game was over, such is the predictability of Tottenham's performances at this ground, where they have still not won since 1989.
All of a sudden, red shirts were swarming all over the pitch, sweeping forward and looking as though they could score with every attack.
The second goal of the night arrived in the 76th minute as Anderson (himself just 23) played a delightful one-two with Welbeck, whose backheel fooled Spurs captain Michael Dawson and presented the ball for the Brazilian to slam home.
Wayne Rooney, scorer of the third goal with a header three minutes from time, may only be 25 but must have felt like a veteran as the talisman of such an inexperienced side. He took on the challenge with typical enthusiasm, gusto and skill.
It felt like a night of celebration from the very start, as every United supporter in the ground was given a scarf bearing 'CHAMP19NS' as recognition for their role in last season's historic 19th title victory.
While the mood around the club feels incredibly optimistic, even celebratory, Sir Alex will know there are areas his side need to work on and polish.
One work in progress is David de Gea, the €21m goalkeeper signed this summer who will be glad to have kept a clean sheet after two high profile errors in his first two United appearances.
However, in front of his predecessor Edwin van der Sar, who was in the stands, the 20-year-old still had a few heart-in-mouth moments, failing to convincingly claim crosses or cleanly take in long-range strikes.
De Gea may not have convinced but there were positives in his performance, not least his impressive distribution from the back and his speed off his line.
In any case, the performance of 40-year-old Spurs goalkeeper Brad Friedel will serve as a reminder that he has many years ahead of him to mature as a goalkeeper – and he will be afforded time by his manager to adapt to English football.
It is all part of Sir Alex's long-sighted vision for the future.