The NYT’s Rob Hughes devoted his “On Soccer” column on Monday–titled “Through Feast of Goals, Stealthy Genius Is Revealed“–to Berbatov and his performance:
Teamwork wins matches, but one man’s performance transcended all others Saturday.
Dimitar Berbatov, the Bulgarian in the Manchester United lineup, scored five goals in the 7-1 demolition of Blackburn Rovers.
Five goals, and I swear he spent half the match trying his best to set up a goal for his partner, Wayne Rooney. “It is good to have Wayne back,” Berbatov said after the game. “He knows how I play and I know how he plays, and we understand each other’s game well. We showed it on the field.”
Didn’t they just.
Rooney is returning after he preposterously claimed United did not have the talents to match his ambitions. Berbatov chose Saturday to show Rooney and all the rest who doubt his quality that he is an extraordinarily gifted individual.
He had not scored a goal since mid-September, but on Saturday he scored five, and it could easily have been more. He was a ruthless destroyer with a velvet touch. His goals came in such a variety of ways that poor Blackburn did not know how to stop him, or even where to find him.
See below for two sets of video highlights–a short official version (via Fox Soccer Video) and longer Setanta Sports selection (via footytube)–to watch all five Berbatov goals (plus goals by Korean Park Ji-Sung and Nani).
More from Hughes, as he breaks down one of the fiver–we suggest you cue up the said goal in one of the video clips above and read along as you watch. (Actually you’ll need to cue it up in the 2nd longer video (start at 6:20 in that video) in order to see the entire buildup Hughes describes below, beginning with Berbatov’s exchange with Evra deep in Man U’s left defense–the truncated “official” video highlights only show the finish, which highlights our frustration with such goal-only highlight packages. The Setanta feed nicely keeps Berbatov in the frame for the entire sequence.)
Berbatov’s third goal was the pick of the crop.
It began deep and wide on the left flank, when Berbatov, with a seemingly nonchalant flick of his heel, set Patrice Evra racing out of defense.
Berbatov moved with him, received the ball back and carved out a 30-yard pass with the outside of his right foot to Nani on the far side of the field.
What happened next was soccer genius. Nani dazzled his opposing defender with a short, sharp, impulsive burst. He looked up, and who was there, inside the Blackburn penalty area? Berbatov, of course.
And the quiet Bulgarian, sometimes so laid back you scarcely are aware of him, was gesticulating with his arms wide apart, demanding the ball back. In those few seconds we could see a sporting brain working.
He knew where this was going to end up before any of us, and when Nani obeyed his call, Berbatov simply side-footed the goal from close to the penalty spot.
In less than 20 seconds, one man had made his teammates comply with his vision, and his opponents stand and stare at his movement.
Going back up to Hughes’s comment regarding Rooney and Berbatov’s partnership up front, this week’s Premier League chalkboard analysis (a weekly feature for the Guardian’s Football blog by Mr ZonalMarking) compares Rooney’s role in this match with that in the corresponding fixture last fall:
Has Sir Alex Ferguson switched the roles of Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov? The two started together for the first time since 26 September, linking up excellently as Berbatov hit five goals in Manchester United’s 7-1 thumping of Blackburn Rovers on Saturday.
Last season, Rooney was used as the out-and-out striker, ending the season with 26 league goals from 32 appearances. Playing primarily in the penalty box, Rooney was supported by Berbatov, who was used as the deeper-lying creative player.
The game against Blackburn suggested a change from this pattern – the Chalkboard compares the number of passes Rooney completed in the corresponding fixture last year, 40, with the number he completed at the weekend, 86. That is a staggering increase and an incredible statistic in its own right – he attempted more passes than any other player in the division this weekend. Link-up play is clearly a bigger part of his game, and despite his troubled start to the season he has been credited with five assists, two more than in the whole of 2009/10. Accordingly, he has become less of a goal threat. In this fixture last season he attempted eight shots, compared to just two at the weekend. The goalscoring was left to Berbatov, who became only the fourth player in Premier Leaguehistory to score five times in a game, alongside Alan Shearer, Andy Cole and Jermain Defoe.