The Manchester derby: Rooney crucial as United debate whether to stick or twist

December 7, 2012 in Premier League

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In the simplest terms, there are three ways in which a team can set itself up to win a game. Football Manager players will be familiar with the following options; Counter, Control, Overload. This week, Sir Alex Ferguson will be wondering which card to play. Ferguson has never been a deep thinker when it comes to the tactical side of the game, and United’s approach to games is often startling simple and predictable, yet often deadly effective. This week, Fergie’s two options are as good, or perhaps as hopeless, as one another - and the success of either will centre around Wayne Rooney.

Firstly, I say two options because United haven’t a hope of controlling the derby match, dictating play, possession and tempo. The personnel is simply not there and United struggle to police games against the likes of Wigan and Queens Park Rangers, never mind a City team gifted with power, pace and poise through its spine. So that’s a non-starter.


So it’s either all guns blazing from the off for United, led by van Persie with possibly Javier Hernandez in tow; or a more considered approach where United look to play on the break. The form of United’s frontmen might suggest going for the jugular is not too bad an idea - especially as City have at times looked prone in defence. The leveller is, of course, United’s own defence, which has at best looked prone, and otherwise looked lost. Defensive frailty is so regular this season that it is almost inevitable the red team will be letting a goal or two in - so they may as well just go for the kill and try catch City cold. But if that high reward but high risk plan doesn’t pay off, United will soon be into damage control mode. So the alternative is to go for damage control from the off, sit deep, soak up pressure and counter on City, knowing that one chance may well be enough for van Persie or Hernandez to cause maximum damage.

Really, there is no way of knowing which way is best for United such is the haphazard nature of their current team. United don’t really look like a team that contain even if they wanted to, but at the same time, it really doesn’t seem wise to push up against City in their own backyard. Whichever path United choose to navigate, Wayne Rooney will be all important and the #10′s current form is what should worry United fans most going into this fixture. Rooney played on Wednesday night against Cluj, in my opinion, hoping to find some form. That didn’t really happen, as Rooney once again laboured and stuttered through yet another game.

On Sunday, United will need him at his best, dynamic and full of purpose, because however they choose to play, against the top sides, slow and cumbersome build-up gets you nowhere. Rooney is perhaps the only player in the United squad who will be available for this fixture who can attack with pace and precision in his passing and forward movements. Carrick, Scholes, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia et al will more than likely be taking their sweet time doing not very much at all. At his very best, Rooney can turn defences and send them running backwards and that’s what United will need on Sunday, to get City on the back foot - because if City build up a head of steam and gain forwards momentum, I don’t see how Manchester United can get a result.

Unfortunately for United, Rooney is currently the complete opposite - slow, sluggish and unconvincing. His touch heavy and his passing wayward, we know this Rooney very well. In many ways, he sums up Manchester United’s current guise quite well. At their very best, irresistible and at their worst, frustration abound and impossible to predict. Rooney is more than capable of suddenly waking from his slumber, and only if he does will Robin van Persie have the chance to impact this game. Despite his impressive goal scoring start at United, there have been too many games where van Persie has played on the fringes, as United struggle to find him in and around the box.

So I guess what I’m saying is… United could win, but they probably won’t. But if they do, it’ll depend on Rooney, so we should probably ask him - but it seems like even he won’t know what’s to come. A City win and back to the top on GD - just as it was in May.