As blood began to trickle from the gruesome, six inch long, and one inch deep, wound around Wayne Rooney's thigh, in the closing minutes at Old Trafford on Saturday, Manchester United fans recoiled in shock at the departure of their star striker through injury.

Stretchered off in clear discomfort, Sir Alex Ferguson's prognosis in the immediate aftermath of the 3-2 victory against Fulham, was that the 26-year-old would be missing for around four weeks. But, following further assessment - Rooney spent the night in hospital after surgery under general anasthetic - it's emerged his recovery period will now take closer to two months.

The loss of last season's leading marksman is an obvious blow, as the Red Devils attempt to lay the early foundations in their bid to reclaim the Premier League title from local rivals Manchester City. But, if there's one area of the team that Ferguson boasts strength in numbers, it's in attack.

Rooney was dropped to the bench this weekend, with £24million man Robin van Persie chosen instead to lead the line, with the support of attacking midfielder, and fellow summer signing, Shinji Kagawa. Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez joined Rooney in reserve, on one of the most profligate substitutes lists in Premier League history, so his omission might not be overly damaging.

The constantly evolving forward three, or four, suggests that Ferguson is yet to figure out how best to deploy his embarrassment of striking riches. The fact his hand has now been forced might actually be a blessing in disguise.

Van Persie made his United debut from the bench against Everton last Monday - a match that Rooney failed to make a significant impression, on his return to Goodison Park - and after the Toffees prevailed 1-0, back to the drawing board went Ferguson.

Kagawa shone in a central attacking role, and despite failing to find the net against Everton, merited his place in the starting line-up against Fulham, while Van Persie wasted little time in justifying his selection with a top-drawer strike on his first game at Old Trafford.

Ferguson had suggested that Rooney would be as interchangeable as both Van Persie and Welbeck this season, prior to his freak injury, and after thousands of column inches had already been devoted to analysing how best last year's first and second Premier League top goalscorers will work together, attention now has to shift to which other members of United's attacking arsenal can fill the void.

Surgeons were horrified at the extent of Rooney's abrasion, the gash scything through the striker's thigh muscle, almost all the way to the bone, meaning it required deep cleaning to avoid any infection, before being stitched up.

Taking into account the location of the laceration, it could well be six weeks before the striker can even return to light training, which in turn will force Rooney to rebuild his general fitness, essentially going through his pre-season routines all over again.

"Any torn muscle takes a while to repair so it had to be sewn up directly," sports physician, Dr Mike Loosemore told the Daily Telegraph. "If the muscle has been torn then it could take a minimum of six weeks to heal.

"Likewise with a cut muscle, as both injuries are treated in the same way. It is a very awkward place to injure yourself, with the tear just above the knee, an area that is constantly moving."

United and Ferguson are now facing up to the reality of being without Rooney for Premier League matches against Southampton, Wigan, Liverpool, Tottenham, Newcastle, Stoke City and Chelsea at the end of October. He cold also miss half of the Champions League group stage campaign, as well as England's opening four World Cup qualifiers in the next two months.

Welbeck will now have an important role to play, for club and for country, in Rooney's absence. The prolific partnership that had been predicted between the sidelined striker and Van Persie has - like Rooney's leg - had to be put on ice.

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