Manchester United chug on, but will the real Wayne Rooney please stand up

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After the dust has finally settled from Manchester United's mid-week Champions League triumph over Club Brugge, with this weekend's action impending, it's time to look at the finer workings of this new-look United side.

Admittedly, manager Louis van Gaal has not had the time to ensure that all the new signings have bedded in to the fullest. Still, against Brugge, United were at last showing some signs of cohesion, with new signing Bastian Schweinsteiger particularly showing promising signs of regaining full fitness.

Van Gaal's preference this season is to ensure his back four get plenty of protection by placing two deep-lying midfielders, ostensibly Morgan Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger, providing they can stay injury free for most of the season. That leaves the Dutchman with four players functioning as attackers in a 4-2-3-1 formation.


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While looking solid on paper in terms of the defence, it remains to be seen whether United can score a sufficient number of goals that can lead some sort of title charge because they will concede at some point in the season, even if current evidence suggests otherwise.

The issue stems from the kind of team that Van Gaal has set up. In trying to ensure that the chance of conceding a goal is minimised, United have started to keep more of the possession. This, however, does not imply that they will create more chances at the other end.

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In the Ferguson era the emphasis was for the fullbacks and wide-men to get the ball to the attackers as quickly as possible. Even if United did concede, they had the ability to come back and win games with late goals. But all that has changed now and it's affecting the only senior forward at United - Wayne Rooney.

The Englishman has been something of an enigma over the years. He's had brilliant times, scoring plenty, but the last few seasons has spelled a change in one of the last remaining players from Ferguson's tenure.

Half from being dragged from position to position across the pitch, and the rest from a decline in his physicality, the Premier League seems to be having a telling effect on his body. He is no longer bristling with energy, taking on defenders, or bursting into channels to get in behind defences.

This is where he has got to do better. As United's captain and lone striker he needs to start pulling his weight. Yes, his first touch looks tentative; yes, there is that lack of sharpness; but footballing instinct and ability doesn't wane overnight, especially at 29-years-old. Rooney has got to persist and so has Van Gaal.

What he does need is additional support. Juan Mata needs to play behind Rooney because of his unerring ability to pick out the right man - he is a genuine number 10. A pacey player on the right flank is what would be ideal for the formation to really pay off for Rooney.

How Van Gaal will accomplish this remains a challenge. The squad has too many players who are vying to play in the hole behind the striker - Mata, Adnan Januzaj, Memphis Depay and Rooney himself. Van Gaal needs to ensure Rooney stays upfront and leads the line, which will in turn ensure clarity in Rooney's mind.

The goals will come, it's only a matter of time. As long as United are winning and the rest of the squad are making up for goals that Rooney is not getting, things are, to an extent, okay. But come a time when the goals dry up, Van Gaal and United will definitely find themselves in a spot of bother if Rooney's form does not soon improve.

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Premier League
Manchester United

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