The jury has been out on Manchester United and England captain Wayne Rooney this season. He became his country’s all-time leading goalscorer in September but, prior to United’s 3-3 draw with Newcastle, he’d only netted three Premier League goals this term.
The media have heavily criticised the 30-year-old for his performances, his lack of goals have even suggested that he is no longer good enough to be Louis van Gaal’s main striker. In contrast, former players Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes have regularly said that any striker would struggle to score goals in a team that plays as slow as Van Gaal’s men have done at times this campaign.
Everyone can agree that Rooney produced one of his best displays in a very long time at St James’ Park, playing a part in all three of United’s goals. As captain, his teammates look up to him and he has proved in recent weeks that he can still handle the pressure situations. He continued his fine form with the winner in Sunday's 1-0 victory against rivals Liverpool.
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Rooney hasn’t been the best of penalty takers over the years and Van Gaal admitted earlier in the season that his skipper had fallen behind Juan Mata and Ander Herrera in the pecking order. However, Rooney has taken on that responsibility once again in recent weeks.
People might think that scoring penalties is very easy, but the penalty taker is expected to score whereas there is no pressure on the goalkeeper. Rooney earned the Red Devils victory in their FA Cup third-round tie with Sheffield United through an injury time spot-kick and he also scored the opener against Newcastle with a penalty.
Rooney needs support
At 30, Rooney is not as quick as he used to be so he needs runners from midfield to support him in order to be effective. The likes of Anthony Martial, Memphis and Ander Herrera are all capable of running beyond Rooney but it’s youngster Jesse Lingard who has been United’s most willing runner this season.
The 23-year-old constantly stretches opposition defences by making forward runs and this gives Rooney more time and space on the ball to influence the game. At Newcastle, in addition to his brace, Rooney showed that he still has excellent vision when he played in Lingard to score with a fantastic reverse pass without even looking at his teammate.
What can Man United win this season?
After United's impressive 1-0 victory away at rivals Liverpool on Sunday, the club currently sit seven points off the top of the Premier League table with 16 games to go. Most football fans would agree that United going on to lift the league title this season seems very unlikely.
However, both the FA Cup and the Europa League represent realistic opportunities of bringing some silverware back to Old Trafford. The Red Devils are set to face Danish club FC Midtjylland in the Europa League Round of 32 next month and they were drawn against Championship side Derby County in the FA Cup fourth-round.
Can Rooney lead them to success?
No one can doubt that Wayne Rooney is still one of Manchester United’s best players and at his best the Englishman remains a world-class talent. His leadership skills when he’s out on the pitch are there for all to see and he has the full respect not only of his manager but also of all his teammates.
Despite their indifferent season to date, I think that United still have a real chance of winning a trophy this season and it would be Rooney’s first since becoming captain at Old Trafford.