Club Focus – Man United – Rooney an isolated figure

Following the historic win in Italy on Tuesday night Manchester United’s players were brought back down with a thump by the disappointing defeat against an impressive Everton side. It had started so well for United following Dimitar Berbatov’s early strike but in truth it was a tired performance and especially in the second half a performance that was not deserving of the three points.

Berbatov managed to get his name on the scoresheet but it was another disappointing performance from a player who continues to frustrate the United faithful. The Bulgarian’s style has often led to criticism from United supporters with many feeling that his work rate is not of the desired standard and this certainly seemed to be the case on Saturday. The former Tottenham man has been struggling with injury since the end of January and has been in and out of the side, a possible reason for his lack of consistency but it is in matches like this where he must start to prove his worth to the side. Due to the inspired form of Wayne Rooney it is understandable that he is so often the player that his teammates look to in order to force the performance but when he has a partner in Berbatov some of that burden must be taken from his shoulders. This simply wasn’t the case when Everton started to dominate over a United team with heavy legs.

Berbatov was the fresher of the two front men having not started a match since the comfortable home win against Portsmouth and so should have taken partial weight off Rooney’s shoulders. Apart from his goal the Bulgarian was utterly ineffective, Sir Alex Ferguson left with an easy decision to withdraw him and elect to push Rooney into the lone strikers role once again. It was an understandable decision as United were becoming overrun in the middle of the park and an extra man in there would provide more protection to the back four. Berbatov however, should be capable of fulfilling this role in order to give Rooney some much needed rest.

The former Everton man looked tired following his exploits in the San Siro and at times his touch did not meet the high standard, falling victim when the ball evaded him as he attempted to round Tim Howard. Following the match Sir Alex commented that Rooney needs to improve his focus in front of goal much in the style of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and it was certainly with this chance in mind that the Scot made the comment. It however seemed to be tiredness rather than temperament which was affecting Rooney’s game. The comment from Ferguson clearly put the focus on Rooney when what was distinctly apparent was the lack of cutting edge from any of his other striking options.

United face an improving West Ham side tonight in an encounter which could prove pivotal to the Red Devils’ title ambitions as nothing less than a win is required. Whether Sir Alex will feel that he can afford to rest Rooney with one eye on Sunday’s League Cup Final and provide Berbatov and Michael Owen with a rare chance to start together up front may be doubtful considering the current form of both. If United had come away from Goodison with all three points it would have been likely to see Rooney take his place amongst the substitutes or even in the stands but with nothing less than a win required it is likely he will be forced to start another game with all the hopes on his shoulders.

Much of the burden of leadership on the pitch will be shared by the returning Rio Ferdinand as the former Hammer has completed his four match ban. Ferdinand’s organisation and presence at the back was evident in its exclusion from a defence which looked ragged so often and was bullied by the physical presence of Luis Saha. Ferdinand will be facing a physical presence in the form of possible United target Carlton Cole and so will be pleased if he is provided with the opportunity of re-igniting his partnership with Nemanja Vidic – many feeling that the Serbian’s presence on the bench on Saturday signals his presence among the starting XI tonight. If Ferdinand and Vidic can stay fit and avoid suspension until the end of the season they can provide the defensive solidity for a team which can ill afford another loss. If this can be achieved United may still stand a chance of retaining the title but there must be an improved contribution from those forward players selected with Rooney if this is to be a possibility.

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