The headlines well and truly belonged to Wayne Rooney on Sunday, with the Manchester United captain putting a difficult start to the day behind him to hep his side ease to a 3-0 win over Spurs; strengthening their position within the top four.
After a video emerged of the striker narrowly avoiding a serious injury in a playful boxing fight at his home with ex-teammate Phil Bardsley, Rooney put the situation to bed with a brilliant display and an equally superb celebration as his side produced their best performance of the season with victory at Old Trafford.
A great all-round display from the Red Devils saw a return of the free flowing attacking football their fans have been craving since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. And with Rooney at the forefront of much of United’s good play, the United captain not only highlighted his ability to play as a striker, but surely now has proved to boss Louis van Gaal, that he is the man to lead the line for Manchester United.
The 29-year-old capped a fine performance with a great solo goal, capitalising on an error from the Spurs midfield before beating defender Eric Dier with ease and finishing well. The goal summed up his attributes and what he can provide the team when playing in his preferred position and given the freedom to attack. The sharpness to react to a lose ball, before having the pace, strength and power to break through the defence gave United a genuine threat upfront, which something that has been lacking for much of the season.
His composure in front of goal has never been in question, but another clinical finish from the England star highlighted once again what United have been missing without him at the forefront of their attack.
With the likes of Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie at his disposal, Van Gaal has often played Rooney in a deeper role, at times using him as a central midfielder or in the number 10 role. This is certainly not his preferred position, but one in which can allow for the inclusion of the forward pair, and with Rooney’s attitude meaning he is unlikely to cause a fuss at being played in a less favourable position, an easy option for Van Gaal.
But since injury to a miss-firing Van Persie, and Falcao yet to hit the heights expected of him since his arrival at Old Trafford, the manager has food for thought given the way in which his captain has performed in recent weeks.
After a run of nine games without a goal, Rooney has netted five in his last six to take his total for the season to 19 – form that has coincided with a more attacking role in the side. His partnership with Marouane Fellaini, is not what many fans would have foreseen to be their best option upfront heading into the final nine games of the season, but their latest performance showed just how effective they can be, and going forward this looks to be Van Gaal’s number one choice as his side look to make a late bid for second spot.
As things stand, Rooney is without question Man United’s best striker and their best chance at securing a place in the top four. While the ability of Van Persie and Falcao cannot be questioned, their fitness and form this season most certainly can. For as long as Rooney continues to lead the line with this sort of hunger and desire, their opportunities in the first team look limited as we reach the business end of the season.
Plenty more difficult tests lie ahead for the Red Devils, but with Rooney playing at centre forward, they most definitely have a player who can inspire them to some more important victories over the coming weeks.