Why Wayne Rooney Was Manchester United's Key Man Against Swansea

Terry CarrollContributor IIIDecember 23, 2012

Wayne Rooney
Wayne RooneyJamie McDonald/Getty Images

Swansea City are difficult to beat, and if ever Manchester United's Wayne Rooney needed to be at his sharpest, today was the day.

In recent seasons Wayne has been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde character. But for the next five or six years, he needs to be the linchpin if United are to continue to win trophies.

Today, as so often recently, much of United's attacking play went through him, but frankly he was simply dreadful. For that reason, he became the key reason why United didn't capitalise on their early lead and progress to a comfortable win.

Some Players Played Well

Whether it is because of Vidic's return and his commanding presence, United looked better organised in defence than recently.

It was always going to be an open match from the moment that Sir Alex decided to persevere with his most attacking formation, 4-4-2, with plenty of attacking potential on the bench. Indeed, Buttner and Lindegaard were the only defensive options.

Laudrup went for a 4-2-3-1 lineup which Sir Alex has also utilised to good effect this season, but United's formation put them on the front foot from the start.

Indeed, there would have been no shortage of candidates for most effective player if United had gone on to win.

The fact that you hardly noticed Vidic and Evans was because they were so solid and secure all across the back. United had every intention of playing a high line and succeeded in doing so until they scored their 23rd-minute goal.

Indeed, Evra also might have been a candidate, for his committed attacking play and third headed goal of the season (thereby eclipsing his total for all previous seasons). But instead, once again he was partially to blame for Swansea's leveller, a mere six minutes later.

For some inexplicable reason, the same player who was so totally focused as he ran in to score, simply stood and watched as De Guzman jogged past him. The Swansea player's shot was brilliantly parried by De Gea but fell to Michu, of course, who was also given the freedom of the penalty area at that moment.

So from dominating the match with 60 percent possession, United handed the initiative back to the Swans. Suddenly the men in white were playing with real self-belief, having looked ripe for slaughter only minutes before.

Robin van Persie's Drive

If there was one man who looked determined to win this match, it was the Dutchman. His work rate and skill could not be faulted.

He was in fact entitled to feel aggrieved on at least two counts. First, he was clearly fouled, with an arm wrapped round him, as Swansea broke away to eventually score their goal.

Then, in the 76th minute, immediately after Michael Oliver had blown for a foul on the United striker, Ashley Williams booted the ball directly at his head from about a yard. The young hothead from Feyenoord re-emerged briefly but was luckily restrained by his colleagues.

Nevertheless, he seemed unjustly booked. Wayne Rooney took the resultant free kick from the edge of the box which was so poor that on its own it warranted him being immediately substituted.

Van Persie was tireless but in general poorly supported. Ashley Young can be excluded from that criticism and rightly claimed a penalty when Davies purposefully shouldered the ball away from a shot driven by the wide man after Van Persie's effort had been blocked.

Of the many things that would have exasperated Sir Alex even before half-time, one must surely have been United's proclivity to play statues, in awe of Van Persie, who had one brilliant lay-off after another go to waste.

Michael Carrick Reborn

If Van Persie, Vidic and Evans didn't deserve to end up on the losing side, nor did Michael Carrick.

Many United supporters last week at the Sunderland match thought he should have been given "man of the match" for his first-half performance alone, after which he was taken off to protect a tight hamstring.

To many people's surprise, he started today, but it would be to the relief of his manager who was so impressed by Carrick's partnership with Cleverley against City that was retained against the Black Cats.

Michael has divided supporters' opinion in the past because of his undemonstratively efficient play that succeeded Roy Keane's barnstorming style.

While experts and his manager drool about him, others seem blind to his impressive statistics.

Once again, despite a couple of lost balls, he would have come close to MVP today. He made at least three interceptions and several defence-splitting passes.

It is interesting to compare Carrick's passing efficiency with Scholes' lately. While the Ginger Prince can hit stunningly picturesque 60-yard floaters that plop into the path of a colleague on the other side of the pitch, Carrick's speciality is the looped lob that drops in front of the striker or the driven through ball that can break any defence.

There was so much to admire about his game today again. He is playing more aggressively and further up the pitch. This is of course helped by Cleverley's work rate and mobility.

Carrick's calm, simple and composed performance might have been capped if Hernandez had been able to convert a simply phenomenal 60-yard pinpoint lob out of defence by the Geordie No.16.

Better still, he had every right to have headed the winner in the 79th minute until Vorm finger-tipped it onto the bar.

Indeed, the fact that neither he nor Van Persie finished on the winning side was surely down to one of the most inept performances Wayne Rooney has put in for months. And that is despite his having started the season barely fit.

Wayne Rooney, Key for the Wrong Reasons

Last week against Sunderland, United should have won by at least five or six. The fact that they didn't can be laid firmly at Wayne Rooney's feet (assuming he could keep it!).

For some inexplicable reason, he was chuckling to himself after each of the three gilt-edged chances he wasted. Maybe he was thinking it was "one of those days"?

Today was a very different one. Almost everything Rooney tried turned to lead. It was like United playing with ten men. In fact, it was worse than that because so much of United's game goes through the Evertonian since Van Persie's arrival.

So many people talk of how the partnership between these two can drive United to the title this season. Today our Wayne was in a world of his own.

It seemed as if every United attack was destined to involve him, only inevitably to break on his shoals.

For the entire first half, he simply was not at the races. We waited with baited breath for Alan Smith to utter the immortal words "Wayne's having a shocker."

We can only conjecture what Sir Alex said to him at half-time, but he emerged looking a little redder in the face.

United play at their very best when they play a high line as indeed they did at the start and finish of this match. They pressed Swansea back further and further, but until he went off, it was mainly Rooney who let them back into the match.

He laid the ball off to Swansea defenders; he elected to shoot and ballooned the ball over the bar; he elected not to shoot and pass to Van Persie instead, but once again the ball never arrived.

Indeed his performance was so inept that it would be no surprise if he doesn't even make the bench on Wednesday, let alone start the match. Both Hernandez and Welbeck deserve a run if United's highest paid player can be this unprofessional.

Pass after pass went astray. Time and again he lost the ball in possession. And just when he had the chance to redeem himself through a couple of free kicks, he wasted those as well.

The first was ridiculously speculative from over 30 yards and an easy take into the midriff of Vorm. The second, a Rooney curler, barely got two feet off the ground and pin-balled into the heart of the Swansea defence.

It seemed the easiest prediction of the day that he would not complete the match, and maybe warming up Hernandez was designed to stimulate Rooney. Just when you thought he would be hooked, however, Valencia was taken off to create a tactical change to 4-2-3-1 with Rooney on the left and Young the right.

It still did not have the desired effect. The bungled free kick may have been the last straw but a clumsy professional foul near the Swansea corner flag must have lit the touch paper.

So Giggs replaced the yellow card offender, who looked suitably embarrassed on the bench for the remainder of the match.

If anything could be said about this match, it was that United defended very well, with the exception of Evra's lapse. Considering the Frenchman scored United's only goal, the defence didn't deserve to lose.

But Sir Alex will have been shocked by Rooney's inept display on which United's best endeavours foundered time and time again.

A first drawn match of the season is no consolation, no matter how well Swansea played. Players like Young, Van Persie, Valencia, Carrick and Cleverley did not deserve to be on the losing side.

But it would be no surprise if Wayne spends the rest of Christmas on the "naughty step." At this rate all those who think Welbeck and Hernandez should not be supplanted by Lewandowski might get their wish, with a lucrative departure of the man who should instead be the key to United's future prosperity.


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