While Dimitar Berbatov has stepped up to the plate and become United’s top striker this season, the net has eluded Rooney on numerous occasions. However, with less than a minute on the clock, Edwin Van der Sar launched a clever route-one free kick over the high defensive line of Gerard Houllier’s Villa side, and Rooney accepted the gift by taking a deft first touch, followed by a blistering half volley past the static Brad Friedel. The American keeper became Villa’s oldest ever player in their history t, yet such was the speed of Rooney’s control and finish that he could not be blamed.
If this barnstorming effort was a reminder of what Rooney has been capable of in the past (for both Everton and United), then his second was perhaps more reminiscent of his exploits last year. Rooney seemed to have developed a killer instinct in the 2009/10 season (34 goals in 44 games), and gobbled up any chances that came his way. In the 45th minute, Nani followed up his trademark trickery on the right wing with a perfect ball for Rooney to place past a despairing Friedel. Whilst it was not as impressive a strike as the first, Ferguson may secretly be more pleased with the second, as Rooney seemed to ghost in behind the centre-back with the air of a natural-born finisher; following Fernando Torres’ move to title rivals Chelsea, Rooney seems to have rediscovered his scoring touch at exactly the right moment.
With the expansive counter-attacking football that Houllier has Villa playing (aided by a reliable finisher in the shape of Darren Bent), they should continue their rise up the table, providing that they don’t continue to field such a high defensive line with Richard Dunne in it. The Irish defender made one crucial block with Rooney clean through, in the second half, and looked ill-at-ease in coping with United’s frenetic movement.
Another incident of note will have been the near-unbelievable strike by Nemanja Vidic to make the game safe at 3-1 for the Red Devils. Vidic is better known offensively for his bullet headers from set pieces, but he curled Rooney’s lay-off into the net with a controlled fury, surprising himself as much as his team-mates. If the Serbian can keep up the fine form, and perhaps deliver a few more pile drivers of this nature, then he could (and should) be on a number of end-of-season shortlists.
A final point should perhaps go to the challenge on Nani by Richard Dunne that resulted in a penalty appeal for United being waived away; a similar incident happened when United played Blackpool, with Rafael barging Luke Varney over in the area. Both incidents were not given and yet could have been, but it is refreshing to see some consistency in decision-making by the officials.