While the England and Manchester United Captain has seen criticism this season, a recent turnaround in form could bode well for the Red Devils.
The United side as a whole has seen a decline in offensive production, and Rooney has been no exception to the trend. The striker failed to find the back of the net in the Premier League from last April until September. After that drought, Rooney was sidelined for nearly a month following an ankle injury in late November, and wouldn’t return until after Boxing Day.
Many wrote off Rooney as too old and too slow, but recent performances have silenced those critics. People claimed that while his reputation warranted attention in the attacking front for United, his contribution was not what it once was.
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Since returning from injury, the 30 year-old has netted five goals in his last four matches, including a late winner at Anfield at the weekend. It was Rooney’s first goal at Anfield in 10 years and came on United’s only shot on target of the game.
“Today the performance wasn’t that important – the result was all that mattered,” Rooney told BBC Sport following the match.
The goal also put Rooney in the record books, as it was his 176th in a United shirt, the most for any player with a single team in Premier League history, breaking Thierry Henry’s record with Arsenal.
You could tell by his reaction that his third match winning goal in the last five games meant a lot to him: “This is a special feeling, obviously. It is always great to score at your rivals and, against Liverpool for this football club, it is a massive result. On a personal note, it doesn’t get much better than this.”
The win against Liverpool could perfectly sum up part of the reason for Rooney’s recent success. For much of the game, the Liverpool defense focused their attention on Anthony Martial, freeing Rooney up top. Every time the young Frenchmen had the ball, at least two or three Merseyside defenders immediately pursued him.
It’s clear that he has become, in the eyes of many, including Jürgen Klopp, the main attacking threat for United. The fast pace play and confidence of the French international has required increased attention from defenders of late, and none seem to know how to stop him other than sticking two players on him at all times.
While this may silence the fiery 20-year-old out wide, pressure could be taken off Rooney and increase his chances and confidence centrally. This could play well for the Red Devils as the chase for the title heats up – their win last weekend saw them climb to 5th place, just two points behind Tottenham.
With no apparent goal scoring threat, United need Rooney to step up now more than ever, especially if the defensive attention is shifting towards Martial. Sitting in fifth and only seven points behind Arsenal and Leicester City, United still have an opportunity to mount a title challenge, but only with the help of a consistent goal scorer.