Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney roller coaster

Rooney

Coming into the season, Manchester United’s biggest question was supposed to be in defense, where fans’ brows furrowed when Daley Blind started the season at center back. Goalkeeper was also a doubt, with Sergio Romero chosen over the want-away David de Gea, while the additions of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield hinted at a period of adjustment. Even the arrival of highly-touted Memphis, sure to become a needed source of goals, came with a period of transition from the defense-agnostic Dutch league.

But having shown a solidified defense, competent midfield, and with Memphis flashing periodic hints of acclimatizing, United’s biggest worries returned to an old, wayward soul: Wayne Rooney. The club captain, the team’s highest-paid player, and a man who’s engaged in two prominent gambits to leave the club this decade had only scored once since April. Now, entrenched as the team’s lead striker and freed from the demands of helping in midfield, Rooney was off to a disappointing start.

SEE MORE: Manchester United returns to Champions League with romp in Belgium [VIDEO]

I say “was” because today, with Manchester United looking to confirm its Champions League return in Belgium, Rooney finally broke out. With three adroit finishes in the Club Brugge penalty area, Rooney ended his drought, helping United to a 4-0 (7-1, agg.) victory in the process.

In a way, it was typical Rooney, packing all his goals into a short span, making his overall line look more impressive. Now with three goals in five games, defenders who haven’t watched can argue Rooney’s actually having a good season, just as they’ve been able to defend past, inconsistent performance. But for as productive as today was in Brugge, Rooney’s previous four games had been just as terrible. A consensus was starting to form: Rooney could no longer produce as a number nine.

Rooney, of course, disagreed. After a disappointing performance in United’s 1-0 win against Aston Villa, Rooney fired back at his detractors, saying critics were overreacting to limited results.

“I’ve had one bad game this season and everyone’s all over it,” Rooney said. “I know I’ve had that all throughout my career but hopefully at the weekend I can get off the mark.”

It was a narrow response to a much broader critique – that Rooney was no longer suited for his favorite role. After his performance in Belgium, though, Rooney at least gave that consensus reason to reconsider. And at best, his performance in Belgium gave it reason to reverse course. These weren’t lucky goals perfectly timed to spark a fading talent. They were calm, skillful touches that, while not remarkable goals, were the type of finishes Rooney had blown during his 11-match goalless drought. His early, quick chip off Memphis’s through ball over an oncoming keeper hinted his scoring instincts may not have expired, while his inability to blow his next two chances confirmed Rooney’s first was no fluke.

We’ve seen these outbursts before. Even this spring, before his goals dried up, Rooney scored five times in six appearances between February and March. Before that, though, Rooney had gone nine games without a goal, and before that, he’d again scored five in six.

Overall, the stats don’t look that bad – 13 goals in 34 games for a man that’s spent a large chunk of that time in midfield. But because of his propensity to score in bunches, Rooney has actually only scored in 10 of those 34 appearances, leaving United with 24 matches where they didn’t get an end product from their leading scorer.

SEE MORE: Wayne Rooney insists that his goals will come for Manchester United.

Goals are goals, and Rooney has registered more than his share of assists in that time, but his inconsistency highlights the perils of relying on the 29-year-old as your main scorer. On one night in Brugge, he can be his old, dominant, line-leading self, fueling contrarian notions that he can spearhead a team contending for a title. On most nights, though, he is more akin to “[t]he corpse of a pigeon slowly putrefying in the sun.”

With a young Memphis the next most-likely to score, and with a little-trusted Javier Hernandez in the wings, waiting for another Rooney swoon seems precarious. He may score the 25 goals he and Louis van Gaal predict, but if they don’t come with the consistency of a Sergio Aguero or Diego Costa, United will be weak in one area their main competition is not.

Even then, being weak is better than being terrible, and tonight in Belgium, Rooney was decidedly not terrible.

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One Response

  1. Wayne NJ game November 19, 2015

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