|photo by jtravism||via PhotoRee|
"Après Moi, le deluge." -- Louis XV
Sir Alex opts for an attacking lineup at Molineux, sending out a front line of Wayne Rooney and Chicharito, joined in action by an out-of-position Danny Welbeck and a just-returning-from-injury Antonio Valencia to slay Wolves. It's a key game for the Red Devils, who will seek to inflict a psychological blow on trailing Manchester City, putting them four points down the table before they even take the pitch for their mid-week clash with Chelsea.
Welbeck and Valencia are joined by the calming presence of Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes in midfield, while the first choice partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans anchor a defense that also consists of Captain Patrice Evra, Rafael and David De Gea. To the Midlands we go for the latest installment of our season-long soap opera:
It's a muddled opening, with both sides seeking to gain the upper hand in the contest's early going. By the time five minutes have passed, United begin to control the game's tempo, Carrick and Scholes conducting the orchestra, and it appears only a slower-than-expected pitch is keeping the Red's passing game from clicking into fruition. Rafael just misses picking out Chicharito for a certain score, and Wolves can consider themselves warned for the first time on the afternoon.
Michael Carrick fails to trouble Wayne Hennessy as United push attacking numbers forward, lured by the opportunity to attack the League's worst home defense. Wolves display resiliency in shrugging off their close calls, as Stephen Fletcher almost opens the scoring with an unexpected twist to the plot; his glancing header off of Matt Jarvis' dangerous cross, however, is just wide of target.
The shocker ultimately comes at the other end, however, and it's not the fact a goal is scored, but who scores it: Jonny Evans is ebullient, as an unmarked Carrick nods a Rooney corner into the box, where the Northern Irishman has an unmarked knee-high finish to put the visitors up 1-nil.
Ronald Zubar is fortunate to escape a red card for a reckless challenge on Rooney, as United look for a stranglehold on the proceedings; instead, he's shown rather leniently shown a yellow. At the other end, Rafael is found guilty of blocking as United give away a free kick, but Fletcher blasts it well high of goal and the danger is averted.
United are unable to get out of second gear, and seem to lack the sparkle of the opening 20 minutes. But when Zubar commits a second late and hard tackle, Wolves can have no complaint as he's shown the door for his second yellow card of the afternoon, and United have been gifted a true opportunity. When Antonio Valencia fast breaks his way in on goal after a poor Matt Jarvis corner at the other end, the Ecuadorian needs no additional help, and the opportunity has been grasped, along with a goal that makes the score on the day 2-0.
Danny Welbeck scores a third only two minutes later, tucking Valencia's cross into the back of the net, and goal difference now becomes a crucial target for the Reds -- a big day could be in store. Valencia is absolutely on fire this afternoon, terrorizing Wolves without answer on the right hand touch line, and when the two teams go into the break the only question that needs to be answered for the rest of the afternoon surrounds the size of the Reds' final margin.
United appear to have gone off the boil as the teams return to the pitch. Rooney attempts to kick start the final 35 minutes with a low curler, but Hennessy is equal to the task. Wolves' 'keeper is not equal to an unmarked Chicharito on the ensuing free kick, however, as the lead now bulges to four with the Mexican's 12th goal of the season.
Paul Pogba replaces Carrick in the center of the pitch, as Fergie attempts to keep his French prize out of Juve's greedy reach. Hernandez punishes Wolves once again in the 61st minute, and it's a deluge: the goals appear to be raining down at Molineux. It's almost impossible not to feel something for the home side as United chip away at City's lead in the goal department, but the Red Devils are doing what they need to in front of a sullen home crowd, a group of fans who now appear to realize their Club is going to be relegated this season.
Fabio is brought on for Patrice Evra, mirroring his twin at the other corner after a four month absence. De Gea is forced into action twice in quick succession as Wolves seek a consolatory tally, but once again the danger passes quickly as the Spaniard continues his fine recent work in United's goal.
United adopt a patient (some might say dilatory) attitude, even with the man advantage, looking for the slightest opening of which to take advantage. Evans is pulled for Chris Smalling, as Sir Alex rotates out the goal scorer to give the young Englishman some additional time to learn his trade at the shoulder of Ferdinand.
Once more, United take a breather, and allow Wolves time on the ball. On defense, though, the Reds continue to play the full pitch, determined to keep Wolves from the scoreboard, and seem inclined to play almost a counter-attacking style of football. It nearly pays off for them, but Welbeck and Hernandez both miss opportunities to extend the lead.
Although United is ultimately unable to grab a sixth goal that seemed to be there for the taking, it's still a commanding performance for the afternoon by the time the final whistle is blown. The lead is up to four, while the yawning gap that was the goal difference is now down to three.
And this is a happy farlieonfootie for March 19.