By Chris Harris
They win when they play badly; they demolish opponents when they play well. For the rest of the Premier League, Manchester United's form and firepower looks ominous.
Critics suggested Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez were too similar to function as a partnership but, rather than get in each other's way, the diminutive pair have linked up to devastating effect. With a supporting cast of Nani, Anderson and Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, the champions have pace, power and panache in abundance.
On Saturday, the United machine will be tested by the
only team which has eclipsed them this season - Arsène
Wenger's Arsenal. The cast list has changed - Vieira v Keane
and Henry v Van Nistelrooy are sideshows no longer - but
the spectacle will be as compelling as ever.
We spoke to Stuart Mathieson of the Manchester Evening News for a United perspective ahead of Saturday's big game. Read on for his views on United's start to the campaign, the understanding between Tevez and Rooney, the impact of the new signings, the squad's strength in depth, the respect United have for Arsenal and the entertainment both teams provide.
THE STORY SO FAR
"They've gone through a difficult patch where they had a lot of injuries. They had to galvanise themselves in defence and sneaked 1-0 results. It was very unlike United because the history of the club is very much 'if you score, we'll score one more than you'. It was unusual and we were scouring the history books for the last sequence of 1-0 victories. We had to go back many, many years. Then all of a sudden it all changed around. Wayne Rooney came back from injury, Cristiano Ronaldo came back from suspension and Carlos Tevez found his feet in Manchester and once the three of them got into their stride it was a different story.
"United have got into a habit of making a quick start but I don't know whether it has been quite as important this year because, as many have pointed out, teams like Blackburn, Manchester City and Newcastle are taking points off top clubs. So no one has really broken away as they have done in the past. Teams like Chelsea have managed to get away with a couple of defeats. Nevertheless, you still want that excellent start because it's fantastic for confidence."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"Tevez and Rooney. I think I shared the opinion of a lot of people who said that United needed a Fernando Torres, Klaas Huntelaar or Dimitar Berbatov-type of striker, especially with doubts over when Louis Saha would be available. When Tevez was bought a lot people thought he was too similar to Rooney. But then if a player of that class and quality comes along a club like United have to be interested because it would have been galling if he was scoring goals for someone else. The way they've gelled has been absolutely fantastic. It's blown the myth that it has got to be a big man and a little man up front. That does work obviously but this partnership can work as well. The telepathy between Rooney and Tevez reminds me very much of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, who had a phenomenal understanding. I can't think of a higher accolade to pay Rooney and Tevez because sometimes they seem like they have eyes in the back of their head to spot each other."
"Nani is the one who has made a bigger impact because he's been fit and playing more. He's a terrific player, he really has settled in extremely well. He has a fantastic strike on him and the fans love his celebrations too. He's enabled the manager to give Ryan Giggs a rest here and there and I think that was the idea behind the purchase. Anderson didn't start as well because he had an injury and he played in the Copa America, so he had a lot of catching up to do. But in the last three matches he really has come to the fore. He's only 19 but has a great engine, is prepared to do loads of work, he has great vision too and really does look the business. Everyone knew what they'd get with Owen but unfortunately we've not seen enough because he's only played four games due to knee tendonitis. But he's looked good in every single one of those games and the fans already appreciate his discipline, the way he protects the back four, and ultimately I think he'll be a huge bonus in the Champions League."
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
"They still have plenty of players to come back from injury. If you go through the list of injured players it has been quite phenomenal and now they have Paul Scholes out for a while. He's out for three months but the rest of the squad just dig in and don't let that derail them. It's not a case of 'so what?' if someone is injured but it doesn't seem to damage United because they can bring back Carrick, play Anderson, and not miss players. United were a bit out on their feet in terms of tiredness last season because of injury plagues but this season you think differently. Gary Neville and Scholes for example can have a breather and towards the end of the season they will be fresh."
"I think Ferguson's tactical approach will be much as it always is. They won't play defensively but they will have a certain amount of caution and respect for what Arsenal have achieved this season because it has been absolutely fantastic. I think that's where someone like Owen Hargreaves will be key because it's one thing attacking at Old Trafford and attacking away from home. United will need Hargreaves to watch the opposition attacks. With the speed United have in the side they are an outstanding counter-attacking team so there will be a fair bit of that. There will be disciplined defending to do but they will look to hit Arsenal on the break with their pace.
"There are always lessons to learn from last season's games, particulary from the defeat at the Emirates. United have to keep switched on until the last second. Even I thought they had that one in the bag in January and then it changed around in a flash. They need to stay focused but there is a focus and concentration about United these days which is growing with each game."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"I just think that they play lovely football. I've been brought up watching United and reporting on United and the one great thing about reporting on this club is that you see fantastic football. That has been mirrored at Arsenal in the last decade. They are a joy to watch and what I think is incredible about the whole fixture is how the personnel have changed. Over the last few years it was about Thierry Henry and Ruud van Nistelrooy, they were the great strikers going for the Golden Boot. Both clubs have lost those strikers but they are both still scoring loads of goals. United got over the loss of Van Nistelrooy last season and Arsenal seem to be doing the same without Henry. It doesn't seem to have bothered them and it's great to see in many ways. I just love to see great football and, in my opinion, these two sides are streets ahead of everyone else in the Premier League in that respect."