Champions League: Rooney back to his best

GROUP A

MAN UNITED 1 (Inigo Martinez 2-og)

REAL SOCIEDAD 0

Wayne Rooney spent much of last season being offended.

He was offended that Sir Alex Ferguson kept substituting him midway through games.

He was offended that supporters kept groaning whenever he misplaced a pass.

He was offended that analysts kept bemoaning the paucity of his contribution.

Perhaps, to some extent, he was right to be dismayed at the level of criticism. People are certainly far harsher on Rooney than they are to other underperforming players.

But that is because we know, deep down, that he can play like this. Rooney ran the show against Real Sociedad from the first moment to the last on Thursday morning (Singapore time).

This was the Rooney that we all knew was in there somewhere.

The Rooney that was released when he finally decided to duck out of the speculation and the backstage machinations. When he decided to become a footballer again.

David Moyes has been widely criticised for his slow start to life at Old Trafford, but Rooney is one of his few success stories.

It could have all been so different.

Privately, he has been worried about the contents of his former manager's book.

He made a point of insisting that he wasn't even slightly worried about it after the match, a point he compromised slightly by continuing his public dispute with Ferguson over the nature of his end-of-season transfer request.

Under Ferguson, Rooney's time at United was up. Under Moyes, it's possible that he could be talked into staying a little longer.

Moyes has been adamant from his first press conference that as long as Rooney trained well and played well, he would have a place at the spearhead of his team.

He was much scorned in the press. After all, what could a manager, even a Manchester United manager, do when a powerful player was so desperate to leave?

Moyes' answer was emphatic and Rooney, even though his loyalty has not been ascertained, has responded in kind.

When Rooney is playing well, he seems to fizz. He is never still, he drops deep to help the midfield, drifts out wide to displace the backline, forces himself up the pitch to get on the end of crosses.

When Rooney is playing at the top of his game, he does all of that but adds precision passing to his game.

Some of the crossfield balls he played at Old Trafford yesterday were worth the admission price alone. Poor Sociedad were run ragged.

PROBLEM

The only problem, for Moyes at least, was that not enough of Rooney's teammates could match his intensity, or complement it with clinical finishing.

This was another disappointing outing for Javier Hernandez. The Mexican has struggled for game time since Ferguson left, and this performance won't have aided his causes.

It was also not easy for Shinji Kagawa, though it was noticeable that his influence on the game improved markedly when he was deployed in his favoured position behind the striker.

But Moyes will know that the game should have been killed off far earlier, that Sociedad should never have felt that they still had a chance to come back into contention.

Nevertheless, for a team in United's position, lurching from one disappointing result to another, a win is a win is a win.

Moyes can now look down on the rest of his Champions League group and know that four more points from three games will be enough to smooth a path to the knock-out stages, by which point he will hope to have stabilised his team.

He may not have had enjoyed a strong start in the league, he may have wasted a transfer window and he may still be struggling to win over the supporters.

But as long as he has a Rooney in this kind of form, he has a chance.


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