Dimitar Berbatov struck twice as Manchester United FC moved a step closer to the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League with a comprehensive 3-0 victory against Celtic FC.
Air of inevitability
Once Bulgaria forward Berbatov had broken the deadlock on the half-hour there was an air of inevitability about the outcome of this one-sided Anglo-Scottish contest, and he duly added his fourth goal in two UEFA Champions League outings after the interval, before Wayne Rooney rounded off the scoring with 14 minutes remaining. United proceeded to seven points at the Group E summit, leaving Celtic with just a point to their name and plenty of soul-searching to do before the teams meet again in a fortnight's time.
Van der Sar saves
Sir Alex Ferguson had speculated beforehand about finding a way of fitting Berbatov, Rooney and Carlos Tévez into the same attack. Applying the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' theory, however, he kept Rooney and Berbatov up front in a 4-4-2 formation. Yet it was Celtic, missing target men Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Georgios Samaras and starting with a lone forward in Scott McDonald, who threatened an early goal, Aiden McGeady drawing a full-stretch stop from Edwin van der Sar with a low strike from the edge of the area. Then, from McGeady's left-wing cross, defender Gary Caldwell – playing in an unaccustomed midfield holding role – crashed in a half-volley that the goalkeeper tipped over.
On the back foot
Yet Premier League titleholders United soon had the Scottish champions on the back foot. With the half-hour approaching, Berbatov's quick feet fashioned a shooting opportunity for Cristiano Ronaldo whose first-time effort rustled the side-netting. Moments later, however, United were in front. Nani's corner deflected off Caldwell to John O'Shea and he headed the ball back towards goal where Berbatov turned it past Artur Boruc.
Given Celtic's record of nine successive away losses in the competition, their supporters will have feared for them as United really began to find their stride, menacing Boruc's goal again as Rooney sent a strong drive at the keeper. The home team should have gone into the break with their lead doubled by Darren Fletcher but the Scotland captain shot wastefully over after Nemanja Vidić had flicked a Rooney cross on to him at the far post. By the 51st minute it was 2-0 with Berbatov claiming his second following a Ronaldo free-kick. Although Boruc saved the No7's attempt, the ball deflected off his body and across goal where the Bulgarian was ready to accept the tap-in.
Rooney ices the cake
With Old Trafford sensing further goals, Rooney had an effort ruled offside before blazing over when Boruc's spill left him with an empty net. United were so on top that Sir Alex felt confident enough to take off Berbatov on the hour; yet it hardly constituted good news for a Celtic defence now asked to contain his replacement, Tévez, who soon saw a shot deflected centimetres wide. Rooney finally iced the cake by concluding a sweeping five-man move which began with Van der Sar's roll-out and ended with the England forward driving a precise low strike into the corner from the edge of the area for his fourth goal in as many games for United.