Man United: Rooney Divides Opinion But Fellaini Return Is Promising
In a week that saw Wayne Rooney become one of the world's best-paid footballers, having played his club, and his new manager, like a fiddle since last summer, it was fitting that his goal, scored with the kind of aplomb that caught the attention of Sir Alex Ferguson all those years ago, should be the one to put the Crystal Palace game to bed, and settle the nerves of Manchester United's watching supporters in the process.
Opinion is, as ever, divided on Rooney's new deal. There still exist a great many who look upon David Moyes as a sycophant of the highest order, after the Scot's unabashed charm offensive in bringing this deal to fruition. These people will probably never feel any warmth towards Rooney again, however many goals he scores in the future. For them, the damage has been done, and they would have preferred to see the Liverpudlian sent packing in the summer.
Others, though, see securing Rooney's services for another five years as manna from heaven, sending out, as it does, a statement of intent to the rest of the world, and suggesting that, even without Champions League football, big stars will still commit to the current champions, provided the money is right.
Those in the latter camp no doubt cheered with a little extra gusto on Saturday, as the ball flew into the Palace net to not only secure victory on the day, but also provide a degree of immediate vindication for those who have been championing Rooney since his summer sulk. Whatever your feelings about the goal-scorer, there is no denying the quality of the finish.
Positives have been hard to come by for the red half of Manchester this season, particularly since the turn of the year, so a win, albeit against a team still finding their Premier League feet, who remain enmeshed in a relegation fight that a few poor results could see them lose, was cause for celebration.
The truth is that this was not a particularly distinguished performance, but those positives that have been in such short supply were present in greater numbers than in recent weeks, and the three points were as welcome as a crackling log fire on a bitter winter's day.
United looked relatively strong defensively, keeping a clean sheet for the second match in succession, though it would be absurd to suggest that their hosts offered more than the very slenderest show of attacking intent.
Tactically, there was little to choose between the two teams, as both sides sought to break the deadlock with good old-fashioned crossing from the flanks, though it was the visitors who showed the most adventure and the greater skill.
This Manchester United side, however, is one shorn of confidence, deeply entrenched in a worrying rut. Prior to kick-off, many were wondering where the next win would come from and, as the minutes ticked by, and the players struggled, yet again, to create any gilt-edged chances, nerves inevitably began to take hold of the travelling spectators.
Last season, the overriding feeling when United scored was joy. This term, it is relief. Thus, when Robin van Persie buried his sixty second minute penalty, the alleviation of tension amongst the United ranks was palpable.
Rooney's strike, six minutes later, improved the mood even further, yet perhaps the most encouraging factor in this victory was the performance of Manchester United's midfield.
Michael Carrick looked more like the becalmed footballing visionary his admirers claim he is, rather than the spent force he has looked like for long periods this season.
Arguably most encouraging of all was the shift put in by Marouane Fellaini. I have written recently of the need for the Belgian to shake off the shackles of his hefty price-tag and underwhelming introduction to life at Manchester United, and he played, on Saturday, like a man finally coming to terms with the heavy weight of expectation that comes with the United shirt. It seems his enforced lay-off has given him time to reflect. Yes, there were a couple of scuffed shots and wayward passes, but that is to be expected from any player returning from such a long spell on the sidelines.
Next up is a trip to Greece for the long-awaited return of the Champions League, a competition that David Moyes has, surprisingly, tackled with greater assurance than any other since taking charge of the champions. Win this match, and the confidence that has seeped so rapidly from the side may just begin to return.
It would be ludicrous to suggest that a win against Crystal Palace signifies the first step on a romp to Champions League glory and a top four finish, but United fans have to take what encouragement they can get, and a few more Wayne Rooney wonder-strikes along the way would not do the challenge any harm.
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