Lessons learnt

Rachel Griffiths takes a breather from the commotion at Liverpool to examine Manchester United's uninspiring start to the season.

Last Updated: 19/10/10 8:56am

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Ferguson: Has admitted frustration

Ferguson: Has admitted frustration

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On Saturday afternoon, the Old Trafford stands fell uncharacteristically quiet as West Brom new boy Somen Tchoyi capitalised on a just as uncharacteristic Edwin van der Sar blunder to slip an equaliser into the Manchester United goal.

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Quiet, that is, save for a pocket of blue and white tucked away in the corner of the ground, that erupted in euphoria and possibly disbelief as the prospect of snatching a point from the Premier League giants seemed suddenly more than a distant fancy.

The home faithful soon found their voice, however, with the first chants of 'Roon-ey, Roon-ey' reverberating from the Stretford End, and their calls were answered not long after when the striker began to warm up in the corner, prompting an entirely different response from the watching Baggies fans ('Couldn't score in a brothel!').

But if the United crowd, and Sir Alex Ferguson, thought Wayne Rooney was going to single-handedly transform the 2-2 draw into victory they were mistaken, with the fallen star still without a goal in open play this season when the final whistle blew on the stalemate.

The fact Rooney was on the bench in the first place spoke volumes for how United are faring this term, with an out-of-form star striker providing some explanation for a distinctly mediocre start to the campaign.

United are no doubt relishing the apparent decline of fierce rivals Liverpool for more reasons than one, with the chaos at Anfield stealing the majority of media attention as football fans the country over attempt to come to terms with a 'Big Four' side languishing in the relegation zone.

But while United have by no means suffered the same dramatic plummet from grace as the Merseyside strugglers, it cannot be overlooked that they have managed just three wins and a distinctly average five draws this season.


The latest stalemate at home to promoted Albion was preceded by one-point outings to Bolton, Sunderland, Everton and Fulham, with United yet to take on any notable opposition this term - floundering Liverpool excepted.

Perhaps it isn't quite time to panic. Widely known as slow starters, United can often take until Christmas to really fire on all cylinders. But that said, this time last year the Red Devils had already secured six three-point hauls, with a home triumph over Arsenal reassuringly in the bag.This leaves us to wonder what exactly is going wrong in the Old Trafford camp. The Red Devils have not been blessed with much good fortunate lately, demonstrated most recently by Van der Sar's unexpected gaffe. Rooney might well be essentially missing in action, but could his dearth of form really have shaken the foundations of the entire squad to explain their uninspiring start?

The striker, who has scored just one competitive goal for United, a penalty against West Ham, since March, has already been linked with a January exit from Old Trafford as speculation rages that his relationship with Ferguson has broken down.

But while Rooney might not be echoing his goal-scoring heroics of last season after suffering an apparent mental collapse to rival that of Tiger Woods, it would still seem complete madness to let him go. After all, if Fergie is the brain of United, Rooney is, or at least was, the heart. With him out of sorts, it perhaps is not really any surprise the rest of the team are looking a little disjointed.

Turfing out the fans' favourite might also serve as confirmation that the club is in decline. United are already battling symptoms of decay, most notably their failure to bring in new talent amid concerns that Ferguson's funds are being crippled by owners struggling with debt.

Which leads us to whether the problem lies within the existing squad. Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes might have been lauded for proving their class time and time again last season, but the inevitable questions have now surfaced over whether they are past their best.


Defender Patrice Evra meanwhile, who scored an unfortunate own goal against the Baggies to pave the way for their spirited comeback on Saturday, feels his side's recent bad habit of relinquishing their lead is a result of them not being 'angry' enough to maintain the advantage.

And the stopper might just have a point. After Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez and Nani put United ahead on Saturday it seemed the home side was at an apparent loss what to do with their comfortable position. Without Rooney's driving firepower, they appeared content to drift along in possession of a notoriously vulnerable 2-0 advantage until the inevitable happened and the opposition snatched one back.

All teams go through rough patches. And it is probably key to remember that if United had effectively defended their lead on Saturday there might have been headlines of 'Rooney who?', with Chicharito being hailed as the Red Devils' new star.

The young Mexican certainly provides United a reason to be cheerful, with Fergie's decision to start him ahead of Rooney on Saturday proving a shrewd one as the 'Little Pea' repaid his faith with a fourth-minute goal.

Indeed, players such as Hernandez, Dimitar Berbatov and Nani have shown this term they are more than capable of putting the ball in the back of the net, but what United seem to be lacking is the passion to finish off the opposition. With the aforementioned heart of the team having gone walkabouts, this revelation is hardly surprising, but perhaps Ferguson's side are reaching the point where they can no longer rely on the possibility that Rooney might suddenly, miraculously, rediscover his form.

Maybe United are simply having one of their slow starts and Rooney will come storming back with a hat-trick at Stoke on Sunday before running into the open arms of Ferguson on the touchline to be embraced like a long-lost son.

But on the off-chance that doesn't happen, the Red Devils need to find a way of working without the absent striker to avoid leaving the Britannia Stadium with yet another solitary point, or worse, nothing at all.

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