EPL: Rooney stalls midfield engine

EPL: Rooney stalls midfield engine
A POOR FIT? Once a vital cog in the Red Devils’ automaton, Wayne Rooney (in red) is now showing signs of regression in the Manchester set-up.

SINGAPORE - Manchester United finally have a midfield engine. Unfortunately, they appear to have lost the key.

After years of backfiring and false starts, the Red Devils have sputtered to life around the centre circle, finding figures of authority willing to drive the club forward.

Daley Blind began with a bang. Ander Herrera continues to crunch through the gears as he polishes his power game. Together, they are stepping from Paul Scholes' shadow and shaking off the spectre of defensive midfielders past.

But as they fill one hole, they quickly find another ahead of them.

Early comparisons between Blind and Herrera and Scholes and Roy Keane are proving less relevant as that elephant in the room thumps around aimlessly on the pitch.

Wayne Rooney doesn't compare to the old Wayne Rooney. The bitter irony has the makings of great sporting tragedy.

United's skipper lamented the club's inability to sign enforcers of Keane and Scholes' calibre; relentless pistons who powered the engine room and sparked the artistry.

But when United finally acceded to his longstanding demands this season and teamed him with players worthy of his inexhaustible ambition, his body betrayed him.

Weak Link

For years, Rooney dropped deeper to illuminate the darkened corners of a dying midfield, demanding possession to compensate for lesser men around him. Now the skipper is the weak link, the rusting automaton among willing artisans.

The diamond that looked so polished against Queens Park Rangers, suddenly appeared manufactured and even fake when placed alongside the sparkly Leicester City gem. Nigel Pearson pitched his cheaper, knockoff diamond against United's expensive jewels and prevailed.

Herrera made it two goals in two games and his flicked finish at Leicester was an impudent example of his proven pedigree. He adds the polish, but not quite enough spit.

Yesterday, the Spanish midfielder said he was inspired by the dominance of Scholes across three decades and admired his predecessor's work ethic and attacking exploits.

As his goal demonstrated, Herrera doesn't want for creative ingenuity. He certainly entertains. He adds a flourish to games, but has yet to control them with the irrepressible industry of Scholes.

Experience could change that. He has the tools. Further application will allow him to influence the pattern of play on United's right side as Angel di Maria did along the left in the first half.

Similarly, Blind teased the United faithful with flashes of the midfield backbone that has been sorely missed. He made for an obdurate opponent against QPR. At Leicester, he was occasionally an innocent bystander.

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