By Sean Hartnett

Dimitar Berbatov’s tremendous match-winning performance against Liverpool is the latest sign that the Bulgarian is becoming a leading man for Manchester United.  The striker completed a sublime hat-trick and netted a brilliant overhead kick that will surely be a contender for EPL Goal of the Season.

Manchester United's Dimitar Berbatov (L) celebrates with teammates after scoring his third goal during their English Premier League soccer match against Liverpool at Old Trafford in Manchester, northern England, September 19, 2010.   REUTERS/Phil Noble (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER IMAGES OF THE DAY) NO ONLINE/INTERNET USAGE WITHOUT A LICENCE FROM THE FOOTBALL DATA CO LTD. FOR LICENCE ENQUIRIES PLEASE TELEPHONE ++44 (0)

Throughout his career, Berbatov (photo) has been perceived as a lazy striker with a poor work-rate but is shedding that reputation by putting in top-level performances for United all season.  His divine ratio of 6 goals in 5 league appearances has made him an early contender for the Premier League Golden Boot and has vindicated manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to shell out £30.75m for his services in September 2008.

Almost unanimously, the British press were in agreement during the summer that Ferguson would be better off adding another high-profile striker but the United boss has firmly stood by Berbatov since his arrival at Old Trafford.  The Scot has constantly defended his signing and was eager to heap praise upon the Bulgarian post-match, “There was a lot of criticism of him last season from the media – it happens when we buy someone for a lot of money, that’s the way of the world.  But this season he has started off in the right fashion. He was good in pre-season and on tour and has carried it on. There has never been any doubt about the quality of the man.”

Berbatov has seemed to have added another dimension to his game as he rose above Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher to score the match-winning goal.  His best-known attributes have always been his excellent technique and skillful play but his soaring header might be a glimpse of things to come.  You would expect him to be more threatening in the air as he stands at 6’2″ and now might be molding himself into a more complete forward.

With Wayne Rooney’s season off to an indifferent start as off-field issues surround him, Berbatov has taken it upon himself fill the goal-scoring void for the Red Devils.  In his previous two seasons at United, the Bulgarian hasn’t been a reliable marksman with 26 goals in 86 total appearances.

At 29, Berbatov may be hitting his peak as a footballer.  If he can continue his fine form throughout the season, Manchester United have an excellent chance at overtaking reigning champions Chelsea and bringing the league title back to Old Trafford.

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