In the aftermath of Wayne Rooney’s injury against Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Tuesday night attentions have now turned on to Manchester United and if they have a plan B. Too many of the initial circumstances surrounded on how long he would be out for, would he be fit for the World Cup (which becomes a sideshow because at this present time club priority should always be first) and if United’s season is now over. The question I ask is since when did football become a one-man game? United have got to where they are at this stage of the season thanks to many notable contributions and those players now have the chance to take the team towards further silverware.
It makes sense to concentrate on forward players so let’s do just that. The man who the spotlight will fall on is more than likely to be Dimitar Berbatov. Ever since he joined United there have been question marks about his value to the team. However, recent matches will show that not only is he starting to score goals but having a role to play in assisting goals- something Rooney always provides. Sir Alex Ferguson has been around this track so many times before that he knows only too well that a star player is likely to suffer injury at some point during the season- unfortunately for him and Rooney it has come at the business end. Where Berbatov can step up to the plate is also a time for Antonio Valencia, Nani and Ji-Sung Park to continue the good work. I specifically chose those three players because they are the ones who are likely to be providers for goals that Berbatov can potentially be scoring.
The shape, tactics and formation of the team has pretty much been a tried and trusted formula. A home and away match against so called ‘lesser’ opposition has seen a 4-4-2 system and home/away matches in Europe along with ‘big 4’ games has seen a 4-5-1 with Rooney playing a central role- an out and out striker. The injury now gives Ferguson the chance to play Berbatov in a position that is similar to Rooney’s and where he is likely bring all his attributes in to play. For a man who has arguably the best touch in the Premier League, added to the fact that he can hold the ball up and play with his back to goal, this is ideal for bringing in the likes of Valencia, Nani, Park and also Darren Fletcher- the Scotsman has added a new dimension to his game where he frequently gets forward and is attempting to remind United fans how Paul Scholes used to join attacks. This represents the best way of United sticking to the same pattern with the same players. However, there is another option: Federico Macheda. It was exactly this time one year ago that he came and made a huge impact to the team with a stunning last minute winner against Aston Villa followed up by the winning goal at Sunderland a week later. He has been injured up until now but what a perfect time for him to come back. The innocence of youth can be his platform to provide in these high-pressure games that await the team.
Replacing a player who has scored 34 goals this season is not easy but the manner in which United can react to this situation will be worth seeing. So many pundits seem quick to say that he has been carrying the team and that will make Ferguson infuriated. The key point is that even if he does come back for a potential Champions League final and possibly the last two league games than not even he can possibly recapture this amazing form he has shown since the turn of the year. He could be vulnerable and trying to do too much as he invariably does so United will not want to fall in to a scenario where it is questioned that they were reliant on him. If Berbatov and other forward players continue winning matches and find themselves in another European final, and within touching distance of retaining the league title, then Rooney can almost be eased back in for the two league games in which he is apparently going to return for.
One of Manchester United’s great traits has been their ability to rise through situations, be it on or off the field, and prove everybody wrong. The players in this current squad have shown that they are ready for the task and taking Rooney out of the team should increase their hunger and desire. Berbatov will now be the main man, having been underused, and the team is likely to set up around him and he has a chance to show what he can do up-front. Rooney’s loss can be overstated as last year Cristiano Ronaldo was grabbing the headlines with Rooney just a supporting cast. Both ‘R’s’ are now missing and it is always at this time in a football calendar where a player can be defined as to how good he is- well, United have a few of those and a chance to show that the Wayne Rooney concern is being blown out of proportion.
Can they win without him? Will they win without him? We’re about to find out.
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