By Joe Woodier
Manchester United’s 2-1 victory over CFR Cluj not only maintained our 100% European record this season but also marked the beginning of the eagerly anticipated Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie strike partnership.
Rooney was the provider for both of Robin’s goals with two very different yet brilliant assists. The first and equalising goal came from a free-kick as Rooney whipped in a cross from the left hand side for van Persie to reach it first and rather fortuitously connect with his shoulder to loop the ball over the keeper.
His second and the winning goal of game came in the 49th minute and had elements of class involved that Manchester United have already become accustomed to seeing from the Dutchman infront of goal. He latched onto a pin-point Rooney floated through ball before delicately knocking it beyond the Cluj goalkeeper with the outside of his left foot to score his second goal of the game, and his seventh goal of the season.
There is no questioning that United will benefit from van Persie’s goals this season but what has really divided opinions is whether he and Rooney can accommodate each other in the side. The 90 minute showing in Romania has given us an indication that yes, the partnership can work successfully.
Wayne Rooney appeared to play in an almost trequartista rol, dropping deep, becoming the third man at times – and he seemed to be enjoying it. He dictated the play, gave us fluidity and there a definite sharpness about his performance that was very reminiscent of the ‘old Rooney’.
No, this position will not enable Rooney to score 35 goals a season like last campaign, but does that matter? To me, Wayne appears to be at his happiest and most successful when he is supporting a ‘main man’ – this was the case when Ronaldo was at the club and it seems that van Persie has stepped into that role. It almost alleviates the pressure from him in a sense and gives him the freedom to play his natural game rather than having the goal-scoring burden placed on him.
Not only is it Rooney that seems to benefit from having someone with a higher profile than him in the side but also United. Our most successful side of late was the double winning side of 2008 and early signs are showing Ferguson is almost trying to replicate that.
United began against Cluj with a 4-3-3 formation with Rooney, van Persie and Chicharito spearheading it. This approach has clearly been in Ferguson’s thoughts for this season as the earliest signs we saw of this was in the first friendly match of the season against AmaZulu FC.
Perhaps Sir Alex is understanding the imperative to move away from the traditional 4-4-2 and to accommodate Rooney and van Persie effectively it seems that this is the only option. The only question mark that remaining is would a front three containing Rooney and van Persie be quite as dynamic as that which contained Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo? I guess we will have to wait and see but in the short term, hopefully the two men can bring this form into the Newcastle clash on Sunday.
Who knows, maybe the roles will reverse and van Persie will help assist a goal (for Rooney) as promised in his post-match interview.