Belfast Telegraph

Argentine must sharpen up to find perfect fit in Wayne's world

By Jason Burt

Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez in tandem. The most expensive strike duo in the history of the Premier League – £65m worth of talent should all the targets and incentives be reached – starting a game together for the first time.

It may have been a Roman Abramovich dream. The Russian billionaire toyed with the idea of purchasing both players at one time or another for Chelsea while one of his greater regrets is having been persuaded out of buying Rooney when it came time for him to leave Everton.

The prices, however extraordinary, clearly wouldn't have been prohibitive but it was United red that they wore yesterday. A sight of the future, said Sir Alex Ferguson. "Hopefully we'll be able to field a side more in keeping with my plans this season," he said before kick-off.

And he also set out clearly what those plans were – and how they have not been remotely reached so far. "I am only too well aware that we have been so far, well short of the Manchester United we are capable of being," he said, "with everyone flying and producing great penetration."

He didn't get either of those aims yesterday despite professing himself satisfied afterwards.

No one flew and there was precious little penetration. Rooney, the £30m man, started his second game within five days, having recovered from the broken toe sustained on the opening day to play in midweek away to Sporting Lisbon, and looked the sharper, the more threatening.

But it was Tevez, whose total fee could rise to £35m if United take up the option to buy him, who struck his first goal for the club he joined in such prolonged and controversial circumstances during the summer from West Ham United.

He reached Ryan Giggs' clever cross with the outside of his boot, with a flying header, in front of a static Chelsea defence, in which John Terry again appeared leaden.

It was one of the few pieces of joined-up play from United in a first half which showed they are, for all the demand for fluidity – with Tevez and Rooney, Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo, expected to form an inter-changeable front line – too dependent on individual skill at present.

It needed to make the most of explosive brilliance, it needed someone to do something special, make opportunities happen, to create chances. It's clearly a work in progress. But it needs focus and, in Tevez's case certainly, sharpness. Given the nature and the physiques of both players they also need to be match-fit to really make that difference.

There was early promise in the way that Rooney out-stripped Tal Ben Haim and forced a fine save by Petr Cech with a curling shot, but when he then won a header in front of Paulo Ferreira, and the ball dropped across the penalty area, Tevez was 10 yards behind. Minutes later Rooney broke down the right and crossed only for Michael Carrick to be the furthest forward. Again Tevez was still outside the area.

And too often the Argentine was too deep at the point of the attack, even if it is his natural game not to be the furthest man forward.

Giggs attempted to compensate for this by coming inside to support Rooney but that tactic also denied United width.

Ferguson's plans can work, and he talked of the "heart" both his young strikers have, and it was not as if Rooney or Tevez played badly. But those grand schemes are crucially dependent on a fluidity that will only come through practice and that needs all the protagonists – and Ronaldo certainly appeared off the pace – to be match-sharp.

As the play became more stretched, as inevitably it had to with Chelsea a goal and a man down, Tevez was pushed out to the right, Rooney to the left. But that only served to create a hole through the centre, which created more frustration for the England striker.

He was booked, and fortunate to escape red for apparently standing on Claude Makelele and, later, fouling Ashley Cole. His dismissal would have been more warranted than that of John Obi Mikel.

Tevez's eventual departure, replaced by the more conventional Louis Saha, earned an ovation. He had, after all, earned the victory, even if his replacement then capped it with that late penalty.

Belfast Telegraph


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