Manchester United were able to cope with the absence of star striker Wayne Rooney in their 4-0 Premier League win over Newcastle United on Saturday, but they'll need the experienced forward to have any hopes of upsetting current Champions League holders Bayern Munich in the second leg of the quarter-final on Wednesday.
As reported by The Independent's Marc Williams, the toe injury the England international sustained during the first meeting between the teams could be far more serious than originally expected and force Rooney to miss the all-or-nothing tie with the Bavarians.
Coach David Moyes was quoted as saying:
It will be touch and go for Wayne for Wednesday. It’s a toe injury and they are never easy. You could see him limping in the game towards the end quite badly.
There is not an awful lot you can do with a toe injury. Sometimes you can feel better quite quickly and sometimes you need an injection possibly to play with it if it is bruising.
You have to make sure there isn’t a hairline fracture or crack in your toe. We will have all that checked.
With Robin van Persie also unavailable due to injury (per Williams), United are suddenly short on class strikers for this important tie.
But while losing the pure goalscoring prowess of Van Persie was a hard pill to swallow, it's nothing compared to the potential loss of Rooney.
Rooney has mainly played as an attacking midfielder this season, allowing Moyes to make full use of his skills beyond simply scoring goals. The forward is an excellent passer and has phenomenal vision when distributing the ball, and his ability to both hold the ball and track back are key in United's midfield.
With the Bavarians' ball-heavy approach to the game, Rooney's vision and distribution skills are vital to United's game plan, which should be built around a compact organisation and a strong counter-attack.
No, the Red Devils shouldn't park the bus. But running into Bayern's immensely talented midfield head-on is suicide, and anyone who blames teams for preferring the cautious approach over "playing the beautiful game" in order to obtain the better result doesn't understand that football at the highest level is about results first and foremost.
United will be looking to progress to the semi-finals; entertaining fans of the game would be a nice bonus.
Rooney has the athletic ability to lead a defensive effort from the point and break on any opportunity presented on the counter. Danny Welbeck, who will most likely be the replacement of Van Persie, has all the necessary tools to work with what Rooney can offer him, but creating chances for himself against this Bayern squad seems to be asking a bit too much.
Could Kagawa successfully fill Rooney's role? Doubtful. The Japanese international is an excellent passer of the ball himself but doesn't bring the kind of defensive intensity and versatility Rooney offers.
Of course, Rooney's skills as a passer and defender aren't the only reason the team would be lost without him on Wednesday. Per WhoScored.com, Rooney also happens to lead the team in scoring.
With the Bavarians having picked up an away goal in Tuesday's 1-1 first-leg match, United will have to score in order to advance. There's no way around that. And with the team's second-leading scorer (Van Persie) already out and Bayern conceding the second-fewest shots of all teams still in the competition (per WhoScored), the experience of Rooney in that department is vital.
ESPN's Tommy Smyth and Bleacher Report's Nick Akerman were but two of the many pundits underlining his importance to the team:
But without Rooney and his impact in midfield, United's chances of beating the favoured Bavarians won't just be greatly diminished—they'll be gone.
Bayern are just too good. It's why they won the treble last year, and it's why they've already locked up this year's Bundesliga race seemingly before the Premier League race had even started. The Rekordmeister are Goliath, and you need everything to fall in place in order to defeat such a foe.
Starting the game in need of a goal and without your best player in transition and in front of goal, you might as well turn around and go back home. If Rooney doesn't play, the Red Devils won't advance. It's that simple.