Yesterday against QPR it was his threaded through ball that opened up the defence for Ashley Young to win United’s controversial penalty, which Rooney then successfully converted. The defending champions opened up an eight point lead at the top of the table, which was maintained following Manchester City’s defeat at the Emirates.
There have been a number of outstanding performers since the turn of the year for the champions-elect, including the likes of Antonio Valencia, Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand. But the constant throughout the season in this United side has been Rooney.
Almost exactly two years ago, at the end of March 2010, Rooney suffered an ankle injury against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, right at the business end of a season that saw United chasing glory at home and in Europe. Lacking a fit Rooney, United were beaten to the league title by Chelsea. Bayern also put them out of Europe, with Rooney playing in the second leg of the quarter-final despite not being a hundred per cent fit. Then followed his race to be fit for England’s World Cup campaign, and failure to find the net at the tournament.
Rooney seemed to be playing without the dynamism and freedom that has defined his career when the 2010/11 season kicked off. In the October, Rooney rocked the football world with the news that he wanted to leave United. Having decided to stay, it took a long time for United’s supporters to forgive him, and for the striker to find his form again.
Redemption came for Rooney in the form of his wonder-strike against City in February of last year. Ever since then he has been in fine form, inspiring United to last season’s Premier League title and a Champions League final at Wembley. This season he has scored thirty times already, but more importantly is playing with the verve that was lacking for a large part of the last campaign.
City were victims of Rooney last year, and look like being again this time round. They could point to the waning influence of their own primary creative outlet, David Silva, as a key factor in their struggle to match United’s canter towards the title. After the game against Tottenham on the January 22, Silva had contributed 17 goals and assists. Since that game the number is zero, and the Spaniard was not even in the squad for yesterday’s must win game at Arsenal.
In the same two and a half month period, Rooney has recorded braces against Chelsea, Liverpool and West Brom, as well as scoring the openers against Tottenham and QPR, and the winner in a 1-0 victory over Fulham.
The former Everton striker has been solid and dependable all season long, and if he picks up a fifth Premier League winner’s medal, he will be well worth it.