Tom Oldfield

Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez might have sought pastures new but, eight games into the new Premier League season, Manchester United remain among the pace-setters. Their cast is somewhat different but the results just keep on coming for the champions.
Ever since the sale of Ronaldo to Real Madrid was announced, pundits and supporters have questioned how Sir Alex Ferguson could possibly replace the Portuguese winger – after all, Ronaldo had turned so many games with his predatory goal-scoring. The answer, or at least part of it, seems to be in the shape of a rejuvenated Ryan Giggs.
Ferguson’s plea for other members of the squad to up their game has apparently fallen on deaf ears in some quarters. There is little sign of Nani matching compatriot Ronaldo’s development from erratic to prolific while Michael Owen remains injury-prone. The jury is also still out on former Wigan wide man Antonio Valencia.
Yet Giggs, as usual, was listening to his manager. That is not to say that the Welshman was below-par last season – just the opposite. He won the PFA Player of the Year award and helped United win the league, the Carling Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. But he has begun this campaign looking even leaner and sharper and is in red hot form, using his vast experience to show up the flaws of some of his younger team-mates. He, just like Ronaldo did on so many occasions, has bailed United out of some tough spots in big games.
There is a string of examples to emphasise his value at Old Trafford. He set the ball rolling at home to Arsenal in late August when the champions found themselves a goal down and in danger of slipping away from leaders Chelsea. Giggs popped up to deliver the free-kick from which the unfortunate Abou Diaby headed into his own net.
And the winger continued in a similar vain in September – just ask Manchester City, Stoke and Wolfsburg, who all suffered at his hands. In fact, it was against the Potters at the Britannia Stadium that Giggs’ true value was most obvious because, for all his unquestioned talent, it was his ability to keep things simple that changed the game. While Nani overcomplicated matters and left Wayne Rooney flabbergasted on one occasion, Giggs displayed the vision to pick out Dimitar Berbatov with a straightforward assist – and United were on the road to victory. Football is an easy game and the Welshman knows this only too well, executing the fundamentals to perfection.
Whether it is scoring or assisting, and it has generally tended to be the latter, Giggs has been Ferguson’s saviour once again. The 35-year-old is rolling back the years and, while it seems that every season the Welshman is expected to play a more limited role for United, he thrives on defying the odds and maintaining a spot high up in the pecking order.
Giggs might not be the flier who broke Arsenal hearts with the stunning extra-time winner in the FA Cup semi-final in 1999, en route to the Treble, but the departure of Ronaldo has seen the veteran show more flashes of his younger years. The twisting dribbles are back, as are the dangerous whipped crosses, and he has taken ownership of the set-pieces this season with devastating effect. He might not score as many himself as the Portuguese ace but his free-kicks lead to just as many goals.
Ferguson must hope that the rest of the squad are learning some lessons from Giggs’ displays as there have been a lot of notes worth taking. The Welshman and fellow academy product Paul Scholes are still among United’s most reliable performers and, reassuring though it is to see them producing the goods in the latter stages of their careers, there must be question marks about how the team will manage without them when they finally hang up their boots.
For United fans this is a sobering thought but the £80M from the sale of Ronaldo is still largely nestled in the club’s coffers while some of the youngsters ought to be able to step things up over the coming months. In the meantime, though, it is the Red Devils’ experienced core who must continue to shoulder the burden of expectation. But, then again, this is nothing new for Giggs, who has faced such a scenario ever since making his first team debut back before the Premier League was born.
Eleven league titles later and his hunger has not diminished. That is a credit to his professional approach and long may the Welshman lead the way as a role model for younger players. Chelsea continue to look United’s most dangerous rivals this season, particularly after their recent win over Liverpool, but so long as Giggs is on hand to set the example, Ferguson’s side can move forward with confidence.

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