Wayne Rooney: Why Manchester United Need the Forward Back ASAP
Genius mixed with lackadaisical mistakes produced end-to-end thrills and a familiarly nervous final 10 minutes than can only be characterised as the "Manchester United sweat."
The first half of the clash was a one-sided battering from which their Merseyside opponents were lucky to emerge only one goal down.
The second was almost a complete reverse, as a Daniel Sturridge tap-in gave the Reds all the impetus they needed to put up a real fight. The Red Devils just don't like to make things easy on their fans.
In the midfield, or more specifically the playmaking trequartista role, Shinji Kagawa's performance typified his team's afternoon.
His first 45 minutes were bright—his link up play with Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick behind him was superb, helping to keep Brendan Rodgers' side pinned back in their own half.
This iron fist weakened its grip after Sturridge's goal, as Kagawa's increasingly misplaced passing began to show signs of his own fatigue.
The Japanese international has only recently recovered from a knee injury that kept him sidelined during the waning months of 2012, and he has yet to regain full fitness.
His recovery has rather neatly coincided with head honcho Wayne Rooney going down hurt.
In fact, considering Kagawa's initial break in the United first team came as a result of Rooney's inner thigh getting sliced open in a clash with Fulham in August, the two have seemed to play tag team this term, rotating the playmaking role with each other.
As convenient as this seems on paper, though, Sir Alex Ferguson needs both fit and healthy and firing on all cylinders.
With the possible exception of the 2009/10 season, during which Rooney scored 34 goals in all competitions, the English forward has been playing his best football during the first half of this term.
Operating in a deeper lying position, he has taken the reins of his team's midfield with aplomb. His work ethic has been exemplary, his creative passing has improved with every game.
The goals may have dried up a little, but his importance to the team's fortunes have certainly not diminished.
With Robin van Persie scoring for fun, Rooney hasn't needed to score at such a prolific rate. Even so, seven in 14 Premier League appearances is hardly a poor strike rate.
More significant are the statistics regarding his creativity. Despite having played fewer games than many of the Red Devils' regular starters, he has racked up the most assists for his team with seven.
Only Liverpool's Steven Gerrard and Chelsea's Juan Mata have set up more goals.
According to WhoScored.com he has averaged almost two key passes a game, while also completing close to four accurate long balls every time he has taken the pitch.
The Mirror writer Andy Dunn was effusive in his praise of the Englishman at the tail end of last year, describing him as "selfless, prolific, disciplined, Rooney’s imperious club presence often passes beneath the radar."
There are still those in the minority who believe that too many Michelin star cooks spoil the broth.
Last week, TEAMtalk writer Peter Hall had the baffling gumption to suggest that Rooney should be sold in the summer to fund a move for Borussia Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski.
A rumour spread in the days building up to the clash with Liverpool that a semi-recovered Rooney was begging Sir Alex to play (via Daily Star). Although the rumour's source was a less than reputable tabloid, could anyone really doubt its truth?
The questions about his character have begun to die, the controversies (mostly) forgotten.
Rooney has played in multiple positions across the park, attacking and defensive, displaying nothing more than a tenacious desire to win. No loss of discipline, no stupid mistakes.
Call them greedy, but United fans surely want the side's best players playing at their best at the key moments of the season.
The Red Devils are undoubtedly a better team with the forward, even if that means Kagawa gets forced into a more unfamiliar wide position.
Sir Alex's side may have claimed victory in the majority of their most significant clashes of the season so far, but there is still the underlying feeling for fans that the best is yet to come.
Injuries are a plague that has thwarted many a United team in the past. Here's hoping that 2013 sees the side's stars out on the pitch, rather than having to watch from the sidelines.
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