Early Doors

Berbatov brings big-match game

Early Doors

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Wigan, Bolton, Burnley, Hull... no, these are not the venues for the latest Cannon and Ball tour, but the calibre of opposition that Dimitar Berbatov scored against last season.

He may have scored 26 goals in his first two seasons, but United fans never really took to their club record (and, for a tantalising few minutes at least, British record) signing.

Right from his sulky final performance for Tottenham before joining two years ago, he has failed to win over the Stretford End. There can't be many players who are as derided by supporters of the club he left as those of the one that he joined.

Unable, and seemingly unwilling, to replicate his mesmeric Spurs form at Old Trafford, it was not long before there were rumblings of discontent. When his arrogantly dinked penalty in the FA Cup semi-final shootout was saved by Tim Howard, Red Devils fans were given carte blanche to vent their frustrations.

Last season, however, he put in the kind of contribution that can't be measured in a simple tally of goals and assists, with seemingly every other cross from Antonio Valencia coming after a lay-off from the Bulgarian.

However, his failure to sufficiently fill in for the injured Wayne Rooney at the business end of an unsatisfying campaign made him a fully-confirmed flop in the eyes of many.

But now, perhaps, that has all changed. A great run of form since the start of the season was capped off with a match-winning hat-trick against Liverpool. The treble, which included a stunning overhead kick after teeing himself up with his knee, was the first by a United player in the fixture since 1946, and it certainly spared United's blushes as they were on the verge of surrendering a two-goal lead for the third time already this term.

Berbatov's seven goals so far have helped paper over the cracks of a lacklustre start to the season, especially when Chelsea continue to lay waste to all who dare cross their path. Not that Alex Ferguson sees it that way, of course.

"From thinking to myself 'it's going to be 10' we ended up at 2-2," he said. "It was a travesty of a scoreline then - but a great result at the end.

"They (Liverpool) didn't offer anything and depended on decisions from the linesman to get back in the game. Edwin van der Sar had no saves to make, Paul Scholes controlled the midfield and we looked dangerous up front with Dimitar and Nani -  I couldn't see us losing the game."   

Whatever the truth behind that rather bullish statement, being spared extra matches against Russia, England and Montenegro so far this season, plus having the summer off, prove how Berbatov is just the latest in a long line of United players to benefit from international retirement. United fans may yet see the very best of Berbatov.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Next question." - Gabriel Agbonlahor's response when asked if he was excited at the prospect of working with Gerard Houllier at Aston Villa.

FOREIGN VIEW: "The TV pictures speak for themselves. It is not only Cristiano Ronaldo who needs protecting. The referees should protect all the players." - Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola airs his frustration after his side's 2-1 win at Atletico Madrid was marred by the injury to star man Lionel Messi, who hurt his ankle after a rash tackle from Tomas Ujfalusi in injury time.

COMING UP: More weekend reaction than you can shake a stick at, with video highlights of every Premier League match as well as our Team of the Week, top goals and top saves round-ups. Once your eyes have feasted, then give your ears a go later this afternoon by checking out the latest Eurosport-Yahoo! football podcast.

The fourth one day international is another day-night affair. Follow our live coverage of England v Pakistan at Lord's from 13:00. There is also live commentary and scoring of the snooker action from the World Open.

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