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Did Wayne Rooney play his worst-ever game for Manchester United last night?

The attacker struggled to impose himself and looked weary, offering little from beginning to end.
Aug 15th 2015, 11:08 AM 25,288 52

MANCHESTER UNITED RACKED up their second successive Premier League win last night against Aston Villa and are yet to concede a goal. Their defence was solid with Daley Blind proving a commanding presence at the heart of things while Luke Shaw conjured a particularly eye-catching performance.

But it was far from a flawless display from Louis van Gaal’s men. The midfield struggled to keep the ball and only when Bastian Schweinsteiger was introduced for the final 30 minutes was there a composure to United’s game.

The biggest concern however was surely Wayne Rooney’s performance.

It could be argued it was one of his worst in his 11 years at the club.

Starting the game in the main striker’s role in a 4-2-3-1 formation, his touch was off, his passing was awry and never seemed likely to create chances for himself or others. He seemed incapable of the simplest task – trapping the ball seemed an effort, the ball bounced off his shin or skewed off his boot and it doesn’t offer much hope for the rest of the campaign.

As a focal point of the attack, it was a pitiful display from a player United are hoping will score over twenty goals this season. He never once threatened the Villa goal and didn’t touch the ball in their penalty area until injury time.

Many will argue that he failed to receive proper service but what Rooney served up last night had little to do with the faults of others. At the very least, the attacker has always huffed and puffed, closed down defenders, harassed those in possession and generally been a nuisance.

Last night, there wasn’t even that.

Certainly, it’s important to put things in perspective and not jump straight into the hyperbole. It’s early days and there’s a long way to go. But Rooney struggled against Villa and was noticeably off the pace, despite not having any summer commitments and having avoided his usual injury lay-off.

There’s more pressure on him now. His last great season with United came in 2011/2012 and but for Sergio Aguero, his goals would’ve won them the title. Instead, Sir Alex Ferguson went out and bought the only player that scored more than him – Robin van Persie – and Rooney was relegated to supporting player again.

He’s never really had the backing of any manager since with David Moyes making that infamous faux-pas at the beginning of his tenure by saying Rooney was vital to his plans, particularly if anything was to happen to van Persie.

Louis van Gaal made Rooney captain but preferred other strikers to lead the line, dropping his skipper into midfield on a number of occasions – something Ferguson did too, much to Rooney’s chagrin.

The big question ahead of this campaign was whether Rooney had it in him to step up and deliver consistently in a striker’s role. It’s worth pointing out that when others make a breakthrough in a first-team at 21 or 22, they’re creaking a decade later. With Rooney, he’s been a first-team regular in the Premier League since he was 16. That’s thirteen years of slog and high-octane, high-energy, explosive work.

This evening, he looked heavy-legged and ponderous. He seemed tired and weary.

United fans will hope it was just a blip but maybe, just maybe, it’s the body slowly giving in.

As it happened: Aston Villa v Manchester United, Premier League

United are top of the league for the first time in over two years after win at Villa

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Eoin O'Callaghan

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