Louis van Gaal’s decision to drop Wayne Rooney has inspired the striker’s hot streak, according to Chris Smalling.
Van Gaal started Rooney on the bench in December’s loss to Stoke and Smalling thinks that was the kick the England forward needed to regain his form.
Rooney has scored five goals in his last four appearances and appears back to his vintage self.
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“Yeah, I think so,” Smalling said when asked if Rooney’s benching benefited the United captain, reported the Telegraph. “And it was a busy Christmas period, but since he has missed that game and come back in he has shown he is a top class performer.
“I think it can refresh you and spur you on a bit more to prove to everyone just how good you are and people don’t forget that.
Rooney found the net just twice in his first 15 league appearances but continued his good form by scoring the winner against Liverpool on Sunday, and Smalling praised the forward’s resiliency.
“I think given his career as a striker you go through periods where you don’t score but the best ones are the ones that come back and get on another run and Wazza [Rooney] has shown that throughout his career. It’s good to see he is back among the goals.”
Rooney’s return to form has coincided with United enjoying a successful run of games. Van Gaal’s team are unbeaten in four league matches and climbed to fifth in the league on Sunday, seven points behind leaders Arsenal and Leicester.
Van Gaal has come under fire for United’s boring displays but his management of Rooney is to be commended. The 30-year-old is back among the goals and, with 16 games of the season remaining, could lead a late title charge.
Smalling, like Van Gaal, believes United are still in the title race.
“Yeah, very much,” the 26-year-old said. “Our eyes are forward. It’s just on us to get that consistency. I think you have shown that if you get three or four games in a row you are right back up at the top.
“It’s a crazy season where obviously you look back at times where you have dropped points but then if you get a win it looks that little bit much closer, it is a mad season.
“That’s the plan. We want to kick on now and not make one step forward and two back, so fingers crossed we can show it again on Saturday.”
United welcome Southampton to Old Trafford on Saturday as their tough stretch of fixtures continues. The Red Devils have league fixtures against Stoke, Chelsea and Arsenal in February, and also take on Midtjylland in the Europa League.
The Independent revealed last week that failure to keep in touch with the top four could spell the end for Van Gaal as United manager, though if Rooney can continue to find the net, a top four spot will be the minimum of their expectations.