Manchester United turned a corner this week, at least in the immediate short term, by stopping the run of defeats that had caused Jose Mourinho a considerable headache. But advancing in the English League Cup with a steady performance against Northampton and a resounding comfortable win at home to defending Premier League champions Leicester has put a feel good factor back into the Old Trafford faithful ahead of some tricky fixtures this coming October.
However, where Mourinho has eased one concern with the teams form, another has formed in the shape of club captain Wayne Rooney. The managers pre season comments regarding Rooney’s role in the side gave pundits and fans alike the insight that he would be operating as a striker, and with him being England’s all time leading scorer and very close to taking the same title at United, that would seem a very sensible notion.
There is no doubting the 31 year old’s personal achievements in his time with the Red Devils, the trophies and his individual records there for all to see, but the criticism of his performances of late and also at the back-end of Van Gaal’s reign are hinting that his importance to the cause is wavering. The slick passing display from United’s midfield in the Premier League romp of Leicester, coupled with the strength and power of mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the front-line further compounds the belief that life without Rooney isn’t an unthinkable prospect.
The previous issue with Rooney, during the Van Gaal tenure, was due to the Dutch manager not allowing the team to play with any attacking or creative intent. Rooney took the mantle himself, from a forward position, having to get the ball and make something happen for his team. The problem being however, was finding himself too deep in midfield and with no striker to provide a goal scoring chance.
In the Premier League this season, under Mourinho, Rooney is finding it difficult to shrug off that responsibility and place himself in positions to take chances when they arrive. The early poor form of world record signing Paul Pogba, along side his largely ineffective midfield teammates, meant Rooney again came looking for the ball.
That changed with the dominant display from the central trio against Leicester, as Ander Herrera anchored the midfield providing defensive cover and often commencing United attacks, delivering the ball to the advanced Pogba and Juan Mata. The former scoring his first goal for the club in his best display to date, and the latter dictating the game whilst adding a superb team goal with an assist for the again impressive Marcus Rashford.
United looked a fluid unit with natural width coming from youngsters Rashford and Jesse Lingard. It seemed for the first time this season that all the pieces were in the right place, with of course the notable absence of the captain.
Which leaves Mourinho with the big decision going forward this season. There’s no doubting Wayne Rooney can do a job in a deeper role but his natural attributes make him a better front man, one that is closing in on Sir Bobby Charlton’s goal scoring record. And that should be the blueprint for his season, himself and Zlatan are the recognised strikers in the squad and if Jose sees the towering Swede as his number one pick then Rooney should be on the bench and rotated when Mourinho sees fit.
With multiple competitions and plenty of matches coming up, rotation will be a big part of United’s progress this season and hopefully our captain will play his part upfront and hit the magical 250 goal target sooner rather than later.
Us Reds are longing for it to happen.