It’s something that many Manchester United fans have been hoping to see for some time, yet the image of Wayne Rooney sat on the Old Trafford bench having been dropped for last Saturday’s 4-1 thrashing of Leicester City still made for an unfamiliar sight. This is the man who will undoubtedly become the club’s all-time top goalscorer this season, United’s captain and the man shoved front and centre into the spotlight as the face of this team finally dropped for the sort of form that has become alarmingly frequent.
Manchester United fans have long lamented Rooney’s decaying abilities at the top end of the pitch, with his slowing pace, increasingly loose touch and general all-round play making him more a hindrance than help when the team attack. Things finally came to a head ten days ago when Rooney turned in arguably one of his worst displays ever in a United shirt during their 2-1 loss to Watford at Vicarage Road, filled with poor deliveries, a lack of attacking intent and appalling use of the ball.
Juan Mata took his place at number 10 behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the Leicester game, and the change, especially in the first half was remarkable. United simply looked a far better attacking machine without Rooney on the pitch, and having stumbled upon a successful formula in the Premier League, at least for the time being, Mourinho will likely be unwilling to tinker too much with it.
That certainly fits in with what Sky Sports are reporting. The word is that Rooney will feature tomorrow night in United’s Europa League meeting with Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford, but will be back on the bench when Stoke City visit Manchester in the Premier League on Sunday lunchtime. It’s a decision that makes sense for Mourinho; the Rooney issue was laid bare for all to see against Watford, but dropping him completely given his standing at the club and for his country makes no sense.
Given the size of his squad, and the amount of games that United are managing this season, using him sparingly seems a much better way of handling the situation. Rooney will still be keen to play his way out of this seemingly-terminal slump in form but will be able to do so away from the pressure of must-win league games, with the Europa League offering a substantial challenge but slower paced matches which should suit him nicely.