Manchester United’s win at Fulham on the weekend won’t be remembered as the moment where they sealed the Premier League title; as last season proved, this one always has the potential to go down to the wire. But it may perhaps be looked at as a game where something came out of nothing, where one of United’s leading names proved his worth when others couldn’t. As predicted at the start of the season, the option of both Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney could be what decides the title race this season.
The game wasn’t really significant for United or Rooney; the player had contributed in front of goal this season and scored a few outstanding efforts. But earlier in the season when van Persie was continuing to offer showcases of his imperious talents, questions began to arise as to how Alex Ferguson would work both players into the starting XI and bring the best out of an under-performing Rooney.
Ok, Rooney’s numbers at this stage of the season are around half of what the Dutchman has produced, but it’s the difference in a team of champions when they can rely on another superstar to light the fires when the other hasn’t quite been himself. And that’s not to suggest van Persie has been poor recently, but by his standards he’s dropped off slightly in production. What United clearly have now is the one-two punch of the best attack in England.
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So am I taking anything away from Manchester City and their options in attack? Not really. I don’t think there is any club in the Premier League who would turn down players like Sergio Aguero or Edin Dzeko; but the difference between the two Manchester clubs is the man in the dugout. You can rely on Alex Ferguson to produce title-winning teams almost on a yearly basis. And while United threw away the title away last season, rather than City beating them to it, we’ve seen an addition made via van Persie to turn a group of extremely likely title winners into something more of a certainty.
You’ve got to ask if Rooney is likely to bag another 17 goals this season in the league to equal his final tally of last year. At this stage it seems unlikely. But United don’t really need him to do that. What they need is a player of his obvious talents to come to the fore, and that’s what we’re seeing. The striker has scored five in his last five in all competitions, and even though United aren’t blowing away teams in the league, it’s still more than enough. Rooney’s brace against City in the Manchester derby was a display of quality in front of goal that champions need in order to turn the tide. When the biggest talking point from the Fulham match was the failure of the floodlights, Rooney came up big and produced something out of nothing.
But it’s also been Rooney’s sharpness in adapting his game and accepting that the tag of talisman may no longer fall to him. He’s a player as good as the best in the United squad to play wide or from the position just behind van Persie. And it’s the fear factor he provides too, with opposition teams knowing they’re in for a battle. Rooney’s understanding of his role and his partnership with van Persie shows that he’s going into war for the glory of silverware at the end of the season and not just personal achievements each week.
I don’t really think you can look to United’s lead in the league table over Manchester City as solid evidence to suggest the title would be returning to Old Trafford; the swing between both Manchester clubs last season was fairly significant even after January. But rather you look to players like Rooney to keep the momentum going and to offer signs of what to expect come May.