Manchester United FC have one foot in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds after a comfortable 3-0 victory over FC København.
United's third straight win leaves them three points clear of second-placed Celtic FC in Group F - with København bottom and still seeking their first goal in the tournament. Despite the presence of captain Tobias Linderoth, who flew into Manchester this morning still awaiting the birth of his baby, Ståle Solbakken's men were second best on a night when United's greater quality and experience told.
Paul Scholes, the only survivor in the hosts' starting lineup from their 1999 UEFA Champions League triumph, opened the scoring and as John O'Shea and Kieran Richardson got their names on the scoresheet after the break, it was easy to understand the quiet conviction at Old Trafford that a sustained challenge for European glory is not beyond Sir Alex Ferguson's men.
Christiansen to the rescue
On a surface slickened by the Manchester rain, United started in energetic fashion. Wayne Rooney, captain in the absence of Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, sent Saha racing through inside the first minute but the Frenchman was foiled by Jesper Christiansen. The goalkeeper was called into action again to beat away a low free-kick from Cristiano Ronaldo, before the in-form Portugal winger turned supplier. Surging into the box after a one-two with Saha, he slipped the ball beyond Christiansen but Rooney was unable to add the finishing touch.
It was not until the 20th minute that a København player got anywhere near the United goal, Michael Silberbauer dragging an effort wide from 20 metres. Gradually, though, the Danish champions came out of their shell and Marcus Allbäck and Silberbauer both tested Edwin van der Sar. Carrick was then dispossessed by Allbäck and as play sped to the United goal, Van der Sar had to be alert to beat Fredrik Berglund to Hjalte Nørregaard's through-ball.
United responded with Rooney putting Saha through for a second time and Christiansen saved once again. The goalkeeper then sprawled low to deny Carrick before stopping Scholes's follow-up, unaware the midfielder was offside anyway. There was nothing Christiansen could do about Scholes's next strike, however, a rising drive that gathered pace as it flashed past his right hand from the edge of the box. A second goal almost followed immediately, Ronaldo's header forcing a fingertip save.
Seconds for O'Shea
It took United less than 60 seconds to add to their advantage after the restart. Rooney lifted the ball over Christiansen but was beaten to the next touch by Michael Gravgaard. The reprieve was momentary for the visitors, as Ronaldo swung over the resulting corner and O'Shea bundled the ball in for his first UEFA Champions League goal. The feeling that it was not going to be København's night was compounded when Allbäck and Razak Pimpong collided as both tried to connect with a cross.
Alan Smith came on for his first Old Trafford appearance since breaking his leg in February but could not cap his return with a goal, scuffing wide from Ole Gunnar Solskjær's low cross on 75 minutes. Instead another substitute, Richardson, completed the scoring in the 82nd minute with an effort that caught Christiansen wrong-footed.