Rooney, Nani inspired against Wolves; Van Persie strikes again
Five things we learned from Saturday's action in the
United, starting five players who were 21 or less, rediscovered its composure and attacking verve, scored twice more in the second half and might have had more. And, for 90 minutes at least, reports of the death of the United defense following the season-ending injury to Nemanja Vidic, looked exaggerated. Matthew Jarvis tormented Chris Smalling, who is not a fullback, and put over a string of crosses. One was nodded in for the Wolves goal by Steven Fletcher but the United defense, with Rio Ferdinand back to his best, dealt comfortably with everything else.
The last time United was knocked out of the group stage in the Champions League, in 2005, it responded by going on a little tear over Christmas. That's a good omen. On the other hand, it ended the season in second place, eight points behind Chelsea. That's a bad one.
Instead, Michael Carrick played at the heart of the team, while Rooney played in attack and United functioned much better. Carrick may be unspectacular and at 30 he might be slowing, but he made United more solid in defense and more fluent in attack.
Rooney once again showed his eye for the deadly pass behind the fullback, but he can make those dropping off the attack. And playing up front puts him closer to goal. It was no coincidence that, restored to the forward line, he broke an eight-game scoring drought with two sharply taken goals, although Wolves' poor defending probably helped.
Rooney has a reputation as a streaky scorer.
"Hopefully that's Wayne on one of his little spurts now," Ferguson said.
Well, if that's going to happen, Ferguson needs to continue to use Rooney in his natural position.
Arsenal's opponent on Saturday, Everton is eight years senior and spent much of the afternoon bullying its younger host, without ever being able to deliver on its threat. Meanwhile, Robin van Persie spent much of the afternoon looking as if he'd consumed too much soda and cake.
"It was not his greatest game," Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager told Sky. "He admits that."
But amid some sickly misses, Van Persie suddenly turned into the party magician pulling a stunning volleyed shot out of thin air and leaving Tim Howard flat-footed.
"We are very happy and grateful," Wenger said. " It was not only a great goal but there were three points at stake."
In October 2002, 16-year-old Wayne Rooney came on as a substitute for Everton and scored a spectacular goal in the last minute to end a 30-game Arsenal unbeaten run. On Saturday, Everton threw on another teenage Liverpudlian, 19-year-old Conor McAleny. In the dying seconds, he burst past the Arsenal defense and hit a volley just wide. Arsenal won, 1-0. Everton, showing the discretion that greater age brings, had proved the perfect party guest.
Kenny Dalglish, the Liverpool manager, insisted on seeing the glass as full and, after all, the 1-0 victory ended a damaging run of four straight home league draws. He drooled about the soccer his team played and complemented his strikers for refusing to lose heart.
"It takes a lot of courage to get in there and have another pop when you've missed a chance," he told Sky before adding that he believes this is just a phase. "Eventually the lot of them are going to score two or three."
That's undoubtedly true, but sooner would be better than later and more than once would be good too.