Wayne Rooney offers some sparkle as ragged Man Utd grind out victory
Published 03/11/2011 | 09:15
Manchester United 2 - 0 Otelul Galati
Wayne Rooney turned into a midfield maestro as Manchester United's slow rehabilitation from the day it still hurts Sir Alex Ferguson to think of continued.
On their first appearance at Old Trafford since being thrashed 6-1 by Manchester City, Antonio Valencia's eighth-minute tap-in and a late deflected effort from Rooney ensured United grabbed maximum points from their Champions League encounter with Otelul Galati.
It was hardly a command performance, but in rampaging right-back Phil Jones and Rooney — who netted his 27th Champions League goal, from a starting position in central midfield — the home fans at least had a couple of happy memories to take away from a stadium where the ghosts in blue will linger for so long.
As the inclusion of Rio Ferdinand in place of suspended skipper Nemanja Vidic had been confirmed in advance by Ferguson, it was Rooney's starting position in midfield that attracted most attention.
It is an area of the field Ferguson has been urged to strengthen for two years and, in the wake of that “embarrassing” City “debacle” as the manager described it in his programme notes, those calls have reached a crescendo.
Whether there is a concrete idea formulating in Ferguson's mind remains to be seen.
However, there was clearly an intention to give Rooney a full opportunity to express his talents given Javier Hernandez was introduced when Michael Owen limped sadly down the tunnel after 11 minutes, the victim of yet another muscular injury.
By that stage United had already got their noses in front, with Rooney playing a significant role with the pass that released Dimitar Berbatov.
The Bulgarian found Jones on his outside, the full-back eventually cutting a cross back that bounced past Owen's near-post lunge and left Valencia with a tap-in. It should have been the start of a goal avalanche against limited Romanian opponents, but United lost their way somewhat.
On a couple of occasions Berbatov was left frustrated as Hernandez stormed into the box but nudged the ball slightly too far in front.
Without a point in Group C, Galati showed limited ambition.
However, when a stray Nani pass rolled to Ionut Neagu, the young midfielder went for goal before Ferdinand could close in and brought an excellent one-handed save out of a previously underemployed David de Gea.
Rooney tried his luck with a curling effort from the edge of the box that failed to trouble Branko Grahovac.
Yet that failure, in addition to the growing nerves at a succession of Otelul attacks that brought no reward, merely highlighted the problem of Rooney's use in midfield.
Sure he can adapt, as most top-class players would. His pass completion rate was of the level the watching Paul Scholes would be proud.
But his absence from the forward line costs United plenty in terms of an attacking threat.
Jones's claim on the man-of-the-match prize strengthened with another probing right-wing raid that ended with Hernandez glancing a header over.
Adrian Salageanu's dangerous free-kick that bounced past half a dozen advancing team-mates and through to De Gea was further proof of United's perilous position.
Rooney ended the anxiety with a long-range effort that took a massive deflection off Sarghi three minutes from time.