Wayne Rooney made European history becoming Manchester United’s all-time top scorer in continental competition, bagging his 39th strike moving ahead of Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s 38 with a lovely finish which set United on their way to a romping 4-0 victory.
It was the Red Devils most complete performance in weeks, combining clinical finishing with excellent attacking moves in what might have been their best display under Jose Mourinho perhaps outside of their 4-1 thrashing of Leicester City in September.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan came in from the cold, or at least the stands and put in a bright display, as United might have taken their first step towards turning their season around. With West Ham, Everton and Tottenham to come domestically in the next few weeks, fans will be hoping it’s more than a mirage.
Rejuvenation of Rooney
Perhaps it’s the new beard, perhaps it’s Jose Mourinho’s message that his spot isn’t guaranteed or perhaps it’s the media scrutiny that has surrounded him for quite a while, but Wayne Rooney has been a different player lately. He was terrific last night, and put United ahead after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s smart pass found the Englishman one on one before he dinked it over Feyenoord’s goalkeeper to open the scoring.
He then provided an assist for Juan Mata smartly in the second half before being substituted to rousing applause later on. Rooney was engaged, motivated and chasing the ball around all evening, his touch wasn’t a disaster and is clearly working well with a point to prove.
Mourinho may have a selection dilemma ahead of this weekend’s clash with West Ham, with Rooney also on the brink of club history – he’s now only one goal behind Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 249.
Mkhitaryan Is Unleashed
Henrikh Mkhitaryan started for Manchester United! For the second time only and the first time since his disastrous turn out against Manchester City after playing with a serious knee injury, the Armenian convinced Mourinho he was ready to go and he walked out with the starting eleven on Thursday night.
The playmaker was bright and moved the ball around well, adding a new exciting dimension to United’s attack. He had 2 key passes, 2 completed take ons, 6 shots on goal and completed 55 passes in a promising display, as he wandered around into his preferred space and half spaces.
Mkhitaryan is the type of attacker United have been lacking, with clever movement and a different way of attacking defences. He may very well be the key to unlocking the attacking potential possessed in the squad. Whether he keeps his place though, is the discretion of the manager.
“Obviously now the confidence level is higher. This performance gives him the right to believe that he can play the next match. The Premier League has more physicality, more aggression. He needs a bit more of that. But, with the quality, we know why we bought him. He has a high level of technical quality. He’s very intelligent, very bright, with how he reads the game.” Mourinho told ESPNFC.
Pogba and Carrick Take Control
Paul Pogba and Michael Carrick were understatedly terrific on Thursday night, dominating the midfield and Dirk Kuyt and his Dutch club side. Carrick kept things ticking over whilst Pogba shuttled the ball to and from midfield and into the attack. Neither will get the plaudits on a night where Rooney and Mkhitaryan dominate the headlines, but they were wonderful.
Carrick kept up his brilliant record in the first XI this season, winning seven of their eight matches with him in the lineup scoring 22 goals in the process. Pogba’s performances aren’t getting world wide praise yet, but he is getting better by the week. Statistics actually indicate he’s been one of the Premier League’s best five midfielders so far, it just hasn’t translated into goals and assists in bulk yet.
Just imagine when it does.
Attacking Options Emerging
There’s no doubting Jose Mourinho has had choices to choose from this season, but they might be rounding into form at the same time. There’s only six spots available in midfield and attack, but there’s a variety of players competing for those spots. If Ander Herrera joins Paul Pogba and Michael Carrick in midfield, and perhaps he should, that leaves only three spots in the line up.
Last night showed though in certain situations United can do without Herrera or Carrick (but not both), allowing one to be the metronome and pivot in midfield. Pogba’s selection is guaranteed, so perhaps there’s four spots up for grabs. However there is Ibrahimovic, Rooney, Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Memphis and Mata competing for those spots.
It’s a brilliant problem to have for the Portuguese manager, as he now starts to sort out who belongs in the first XI week in, week out and who doesn’t. It’ll be something to monitor going forward.
Tests To Come
United rounding into some good form, whilst holding up at the back is good news. Sergio Romero was excellent in goal, saving his team when it was 0-0, deflecting a Kuyt effort wide. Phil Jones and Daley Blind did well in central defence for the most part, though Eric Bailly will be a welcome addition to the first XI when he returns.
With these fixtures upcoming, it’ll be an interesting acid test of whether the team is improving heading into Christmas:
- West Ham (Home) – Premier League
- West Ham (Home) – EFL Cup
- Everton (Away) – Premier League
- Zorya (Away) – Europa League
- Tottenham (Home) – Premier League
- Crystal Palace (Away) – Premier League
- West Bromwich Albion (Away) – Premier League
By the festive season, United and the footballing world will know where this team will be at. Hopefully it’s a continuing positive direction.