Last season Wayne Rooney was scoring for fun and was breaching defences left, right and centre whilst Dimitar Berbatov struggled for form and goals; this season their roles have reversed completely. Whilst the often lethargic Bulgarian struts around oozing confidence his partner Rooney looks a demoralised man. It is only a matter of time you feel before Rooney re-discovers his goal scoring form but for now Berbatov is number one.
It has taken time for Berbatov to find his feet at United, in previous teams he has not had to press as much and fight for the ball. At Tottenham he had Robbie Keane to do the hard work whilst he added the flicks and delicate touches – since his move to Manchester United he has found life to be slightly tougher. In his early days at Old Trafford he looked rather lost at points, the game seemed so easy for those around him and for once his mercurial skill and touch had deserted him. There seemed something altogether different about him at the start of this season and he has now scored 17 goals in 19 games already this season and he has become the first person since Ruud van Nistelrooy to score three hat tricks in a season.
When Rooney is at his best he operates in the middle and on the shoulder of the last defender. He has tremendous speed over short distances and his acceleration can take him away from many of the top defenders both domestically and abroad. However, when his form drops his positional discipline deteriorates and he roams the pitch searching for the ball. Against Tottenham last week he had a few efforts from range but was not getting into those dangerous positions frequently enough to hurt Dawson or Gallas – the one time he did was in the opening few minutes but he finished poorly.
With Rooney roaming, the centre forwards role has very much landed in Berbatov’s lap and he has grasped his opportunity. The Bulgarian works better with his body facing goal when he can advance onto the ball and then pick from multiple options. The way Manchester United attack suits both strikers and once Rooney is back to his best the team should start to score far more goals and dominate games more convincingly than they have this season.
There is no doubt that Manchester United have not been at their best thus far this term but there are signs of a significant improvement. At Christmas they had amassed their lowest total of points in the Premier League and it is an indictment of the strength of their competition that they sit so comfortably at the summit.
However, if they are to remain there it will crucial that both strikers are scoring goals. Whilst this season has belonged almost entirely to Berbatov there remains plenty of time for Rooney to make his mark on the title.