The Englishman has endured inconsistent form so far this season, with his performance in the 1-1 Champions League clash with CSKA Moscow on Wednesday the latest to irk the club’s supporters.
However, history suggests that the 29-year-old playing badly going into the clash is not necessarily a bad thing, and could provide the perfect stage for United’s talisman to ignite.
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Rooney has scored more Manchester derby goals than any player in Premier League history, but none stands out more than his sensational bicycle kick that erupted Old Trafford into ecstasy in 2011.
Up until that point, the Englishman had struggled for form, gone public with his efforts to force an exit and spent much of the season on the sidelines. Despite his troubles, though, he won the game with a moment of sheer magic.
Nani and Edin Dzeko had struck earlier blows, but Rooney ultimately stole the headlines, helping edge United closer towards a 19th league title.
It remains one of the finest goals English football has ever seen and one that revived his fortunes in an otherwise difficult campaign that eventually ended with success in May.
Rooney enters Sunday’s box office showdown entrenched in another turgid run of form that, despite netting against former club Everton last weekend, is forcing United fans to call for his removal from the starting line-up.
However, the England captain usually produces against City – from a beautiful brace at the Etihad Stadium in 2013, to the exquisite individual goal he bagged against them at Old Trafford four years earlier, something about the Citizens brings out the best in Rooney.
The veteran also remains his club’s leading goalscorer in all competitions, ahead of summer recruits Anthony Martial and Memphis Depay by one and two goals, in his hunt to spearhead the scoring charts for the second season in succession.
He needs to start and needs to produce. Only after the biggest game of Louis van Gaal’s United tenure will the Dutchman have a true insight as to whether or not his captain remains capable of performing on the big stage.