Saturday's trip to Bolton is one of those tricky away encounters for Manchester United to navigate, with a trot down to the Reebok to visit the Bolton Wanderers. Sir Alex tinkers only gently with his wildly productive lineup, exchanging Javier Hernandez and Rio Ferdinand for the injured Danny Welbeck and the rested Chris Smalling. David De Gea starts once again in goal, despite the mysterious media-fueled rumors to the contrary, which suggest pre-game that Fergie feared the Spaniard wouldn't be physical enough to cope with Bolton's vaunted aerial attack. Before the game has time enough to develop any sort of a rhythm or tempo, it's Chicharito opening the scoring for United, with Nani offering a perfect ball in from the wing and leaving the Mexican Pea with only a tap in to open his account for the season. Hernandez showcases his typical dazzling form with the score, timing his run perfectly, and zigzagging in and out of the Bolton defense to lose his marker -- an England center back, no less -- at the last possible minute. A minute later and it's Wayne Rooney...showcasing his defensive skills, Wazza tracking all the way to clear a ball off the goal line, and then blocking a second Bolton shot for good measure. Michael Carrick replaces an injured Tom Cleverly, the young midfielder clattered over by the dire tackling of a brutish Kevin Davies, and United fans collectively hold their breath for word on the youngster's status. At the other end of the pitch, Rooney is denied a header at the very last second by Gary Cahill, and the Bolton defense is seemingly nonexistent but for Cahill's late intervention. Davies continues his one man foul parade, only finally being shown the yellow card he deserved earlier in the match when he karate kicks Patrice Evra, and referee Mark Clattenburg is forced to emerge from a deep slumber. Bolton continue to try and work their way into the match, but it's Rooney doubling the visitor's good fortune instead, displaying a wonderful touch off Phil Jones' cross and putting United two to the good with a second toe-poke goal. The crowd at the Reebok grows eerily silent as the home fans suddenly realize that Owen Coyle's pre-game plan of fouling the Champions to death has gone hideously wrong inside of twenty minutes. Rooney adds to his tally less than five minutes later, when Phil Jones makes a marvelous run through the Bolton defense, tying them into knots or cutting through them like a hot knife through butter -- whichever description you prefer, both are equally accurate -- and Roo is left with an easy right footer to triple the advantage (Ed. Note: Can you triple zero?).
When Chicharito puts the ball on the back of the net less than two minutes later, he's celebrating his second of the afternoon before he is correctly adjudged to be just offside. Even the Bolton fans can feel it, though: 4-nil is coming soon, and they begin to show their despair by dutifully filing out of the stadium toward the food stands, in order to drown their sorrows in a halftime drinking binge. Somewhat shockingly, ten minutes whiz by without another United goal, a veritable drought in this season of bounty. Nani needs a vaseline hairwash to stanch the bleeding which occurs after he knocks heads with a rock-hard Jones, but just before half he's back on the pitch and only a whisker wide of net before the teams repair to their respective locker rooms to catch their breath. Much to the amazement of the game's announcers and the assembled English media, De Gea makes a couple fine saves to open the second half, continuing a puzzling trend that sees him keeping the ball out of the Manchester United net. In the other goal, Jussi Jaaskelainen has a third consecutive game full of dodgy decisions, but rest assured - - no one in the pressbox will criticize him in the slightest, as small foibles such as these are to be expected from time to time. Likewise, the media must be closing their eyes again as De Gea boots the ball the length of the pitch to set off yet another United attack, while Jaskaleinen gets caught out one more time. Chicharito is unlucky not to score his second of the afternoon on the play, but the scramble only delays the inevitable, as Hernandez eventually does get his double, finding the back of the net to give United a fourth goal on the afternoon.
The latest goal sends Ashley Young and a limping Jonny Evans to the shower, done for the day, and they are replaced by Ryan Giggs and Chris Smalling. It's telling that the biggest question about the latter's substitution revolves around where Smalling will play, such is the team's positional diversity at this point. Rooney bags his second hat trick in two games to make the scoreline a gaudy 5-nil, as Bolton's defense can only stand around and watch the magic; they really should be applauding with the seats they've been offered for the show. Chicharito nearly grabs his own hat trick a minute later, with Rooney displaying incredible offensive versatility, this time turning provider and offering a perfect cross for the Mexican, who comes thisclose to stretching the lead to six. The game action slows to a crawl as United take their foot off the pedal, one eye turned toward the Champions League, and the news that Tom Cleverly may have broken his foot takes some of the sheen off what should be a glorious afternoon. Evra goes down hard after after a collision with Bolton newboy David N'Gog, which causes a worry not only because he's a starting defender, but also because United have already used their three substitutions on the afternoon. De Gea stops his 13th shot of the game, and somehow miraculously comes up with his second shutout in four attempts, a statistic which must completely mystify the watching English media. Although Chicharito misses another chance at a hat trick as the clock ticks down, the pre-game jitters are long gone: it's a 5-nil wipeout, and the United juggernaut rolls back home to prepare for a mid-week Champions League encounter with Benfica.