1. Roo good to be true
Wayne Rooney is back, big time. With Robin van Persie largely taking all the credit and limelight this season, coupled with several infuriating and niggling injuries for the Scouser, Rooney’s come in for a lot more criticism than even he is used to. Some of that has even been vented by United fans, some of whom still can’t and perhaps never will fully forgive him for his threat to quit Old Trafford in October 2010. I’ve written several articles about Rooney this season and my main point has been that he is still our talisman. It’s great having Nemanja Vidic back, our warrior and rock at the back. Rio plays a similar, authority figure role, while van Persie has also become a key player and an icon with the fans. But Rooney is the man that makes us tick. To be fair, when he’s been fit this season he’s played well and scored goals, but at Craven Cottage on Saturday evening, Rooney was simply electric. He was on top of his game and when he’s like that he’s nearing the same level as Messi and Ronaldo – unplayable. He and the whole United team are starting to find their form at the exact right time.
2. Central defence is our foundation again
Jonny Evans, Rio, Vidic, Smalling, Jones, at the moment it doesn’t seem to matter who Sir Alex Ferguson picks as his central defensive core, they are really stepping up to the plate. Fergie is still, rightly, being cautious with Vidic, not chucking him into the pool without a floatation device. After all, when he was rushed back at the beginning of the season and then had to endure another period on the sidelines. Jones and Smalling are really starting to build on their promise and are reliable options for the boss. Despite a period out with injury, Northern Ireland international Evans stepped back into the firing line on Saturday and continued with his awesome progress this season and was one of the best players on the pitch. As for Rio, he continues to defy his body clock and the critics, and was even better than Evans. With Vidic’s long absence and the niggling injuries to Smalling and Jones, he’s really been the rock that Fergie has been able to use to anchor and, at times, much maligned back four.
3. Our teamwork is a thing of beauty
Building on the theme of improving defence, I believe the Fulham game was a watershed moment for our season. It was scrappy and cagey at times but it was a result borne out of total commitment from 1 to 11 (and substitutes) and a real show of unity. In some ways the 1-0 triumph was almost as satisfying as, say, our 5-0 destruction of the Cottagers in the same fixture last season. Many of the match reports I’ve read have leaned toward United’s escape with the points and how we rode our luck, focusing on Fulham’s goalscoring chances and largely ignoring the fact we hit the woodwork three times and called Mark Schwarzer into action on numerous occasions. From heroic blocking by Evans and Rio to closing down from the front by Rooney and van Persie and the pressing of the ball from Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick, the players really put their bodies on the line for each other. No more so was this typified than van Persie’s cleared header off the line in injury time.
4. Uncertain Widemen
Ashley Young is injured and is finding out just how hard it is to step up from an average Premier League club to Manchester United; Nani has been injured and is still searching for his 2010 form, though we saw glimpses on Saturday, but the issue of a new contract still looms large; while Antonio Valencia, mesmerising, swashbuckling and utterly lethal last season, is mystifyingly lacking form and confidence. Sir Alex maybe a little disappointed he is unable to call on the services of Wilfried Zaha, though remaining at Palace is likely to be more beneficial in the long term for the exciting youngster. Improving in every other area, our traditionally prosperous widemen are leaving much to be desired.
5. Not such a one man team after all
Signed purely for the reason to get us goals, van Persie’s scintillating form so far has, not surprisingly, led to new criticism for United that we’ve been a one man team. He hasn’t scored in our last three games (granted he didn’t play in our FA Cup replay against Fulham), which will ironically probably now lead to such stories claiming he’s enduring a drought. With Rooney netting four times in three games and Javier Hernandez bagging a brace against Fulham in the FA Cup, the theory that we’ve got ourselves a replica front four of the ’99 quartet (Cole/Yorke/Sheringham/Solskjaer) is starting to really ring true. As mentioned previously, with Rooney hitting the goal trail and other players improving, a lot of players are starting to contribute and help us hit form at the exact right time.
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