Football

Time to field Mkhitaryan

Mkhitaryan is the playmaker that Rooney isn't

MAN UNITED v 
LEICESTER CITY

(Tonight, 7.25pm, Singtel TV Ch 103 & 
StarHub TV Ch 228 - ELEVEN Plus HD)

How do you solve a problem like Wayne Rooney?

It's the question seemingly on the lips of every Manchester United fan, and it's a conundrum that's certainly baffling Jose Mourinho.

This week's answer was to jump in a battered old Delorean, go back to the future, and play his skipper as a frontline striker in the League Cup clash at lowly Northampton.

The theory was that a couple of goals against a side of wannabes, has-beens and never-weres would have a galvanising effect on a player going through a rough patch.

It certainly worked for another United legend 46 years ago, when a certain George Best was surprisingly thrust into United's starting line-up for an FA Cup fifth-round tie against the same opposition after completing a four-week ban.

On that famous day in February 1970, Best wasn't even on the list of United players in the matchday programme, and didn't warrant a mention in Northampton's pre-match players' briefing.

However, after being handed a late call to arms, Best waltzed his way to a double hat-trick in a game that has gone down in English football folklore.

"For the final goal, he took it around Kim Book the goalkeeper and just stood on the goal-line, waved to the crowd and then put it into the net. It was one of those magic moments in time," Ray Fairfax, who marked Best that day, told the Daily Mail.

Mourinho would not have anticipated a six-goal super show from his skipper on Wednesday, but he would surely have hoped for something more positive than what Rooney delivered at the Sixfields Stadium.

The tone was set in the seventh minute, when the 30-year-old sliced Ashley Young's cut-back wide from six metres out.

Ten minutes later, there was a half-hearted side-foot from an indirect free-kick. He then saw a goal disallowed for offside - a less desperate player surely would not have been trying to gain that extra metre.

This week's criticism would have stung Rooney - this is a man who will be remembered as one of England's finest-ever players.

However, his performance at Sixfields was like watching someone trying to complete a jigsaw in the dark.

The big question is - will he keep his place against champions Leicester tonight? If he starts, where will he play?

Mourinho has publically admitted that Rooney is no longer a striker.

Two months ago, he said that he won't play him in midfield.

If we're confused, imagine how Rooney is feeling now.

PLAYMAKER

As Paul Scholes pointed out last week, United are crying out for a playmaker to sit alongside Paul Pogba - someone who can dictate the game and allow the Frenchman to express himself.

Can Rooney be that man? He looked good in that position against an admittedly poor Russian side at Euro 2016, but is Mourinho prepared to go back on his word and hand Rooney the No. 6 role?

In fairness to the former Everton man, nobody at United has created more opportunities this season or recorded as many assists.

However, anyone who watched Henrikh Mkhitaryan in action for Borussia Dortmund last season would recognise a player who can dictate play in the final third, take players on and produce moments of magic from his favoured No. 10 position.

Such attacking influence seems beyond Rooney these days. His confidence looks battered and, at times, he's worn the confused expression of a footballing immortal being force-fed large spoonfuls of mortality.

United's opponents tonight are beginning to hit their groove. Despite a slow start, it now appears that Claudio Ranieri has invested his £65-million ($115m) treasure chest wisely.

The Foxes were excellent against Club Brugge on their Champions League debut, showed Liverpool how to break down an obdurate Burnley team last weekend, and looked a good side in defeat by Chelsea in the League Cup in midweek.

With United's confidence still flagging and, with their tendency to try and force the play, Leicester's patient and pacy counter-attacking is probably the last thing they need to face right now.

What Mourinho really needs to do is to take a gamble with Mkhitaryan, not his captain.


  • Richard Lenton is the lead presenter at ELEVEN SPORTS NETWORK. Join Richard and his studio guests for ELEVEN's live coverage of the Premier League, which includes tonight's clashes between Manchester United and Leicester from 7pm, and Liverpool's home match with Hull City (10pm). For more details visit www.elevensports.sg

Every single fan is laughing at the situation. Mkhitaryan must be thinking: ‘Rooney isn’t fit to lace my boots… he can’t even run.’

- Former Man United defender Paul Parker

ROONEY: 
I WILL IGNORE 'RUBBISH'

PHOTO: REUTERS

Wayne Rooney has vowed to shut out the critics and battle hard for Manchester United.

The form of the United and England captain (photo) has come under scrutiny following the team's recent poor run of results.

United lost three successive games, to Manchester City, Feyenoord and Watford, before their midweek win at Northampton in the League Cup.

Some observers have questioned whether 30-year-old Rooney, who is just three goals short of equalling Sir Bobby Charlton's all-time United record of 249, is still worth his place in the side.

But, when asked about the critics, Rooney told MUTV: "I've had that my whole career - a little bit more of late, I think, but that's football.

"I listen to my coaches and my teammates, the people around me, and I don't really listen to what a lot of people out there are saying, because a lot of it is rubbish.

"I have to focus, work hard, of course, and I've done that throughout my career. I've worked hard and tried to do my best for the team."

There has also been debate about Rooney's best position.

Former manager Louis van Gaal sometimes deployed Rooney in a midfield role, but new boss Jose Mourinho prefers to have him further forward.

Rooney said: "I've done that (played in different positions) throughout my career.

"I feel I can play in all positions, but the manager has made it clear either I'll play up front or in the No. 10 (role) and that's where he sees me playing."

United were largely outplayed by City in the recent derby, despite a final scoreline of 2-1, and the side from the Etihad Stadium have made a superb start to the season.

Rooney, however, is relishing the prospect of another derby clash next month, after the sides were drawn in the fourth round of the League Cup.

"For me, it's the perfect draw," he told MUTV.

"With what happened in the league, it's a chance for us to get revenge for that result. It's going to be a great atmosphere.

"I think City will have 7,000-8,000 fans here, which will obviously make it an even better atmosphere.

"A cup game against City at Old Trafford is the perfect draw for us."

Rooney also remains convinced that United will be in contention for silverware this season, despite an underwhelming start.

"He's (Mourinho) been brilliant since he's come in," he said.

"Training has changed a lot. The training has been really good and it's interesting to see how he prepares for games with tactics, how we approach games, and it's been really good.

"I'm sure obviously we will come back and definitely be challenging this season." 
- Wire Services.

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