Correlation does not always imply causation. Manchester United dropped Wayne Rooney for the visit of Premier League champions Leicester on Saturday and went on to thump them 4-1. A clear case of cause and effect, or were Leicester simply terrible at defending for one awful 20 minute spell in the first half? After all, this is the third time this season that Leicester have conceded four goals in a match.
The Rooney critics will rightly point to the increased fluidity, pace and movement in the team; the quicker interchange of passes; the increased space for Mata’s creativity to flourish; Pogba’s dominance in the first half, and Daley Blind’s deadly dead ball delivery. Amazingly, three of United’s four goals came from corners. United never score from corners, but then Rooney is the designated set piece taker. In that respect, the belated change to Blind could not have come sooner!
However, perhaps even more significant was the decision to jettison the limited Marouane Fellaini and play Ander Herrera alongside Pogba in the deep lying Carrick role. It freed Pogba to play much further forward, in a roaming role, that saw him hit a dipping 35 yard shot that was saved, contribute to Mata’s goal, score himself with a brilliant header, and play a delightful dink to Zlatan, whose swivelled volley over the bar would have been a top contender for goal of the season had it flown into the back of the net. Of course, it’s the least United can expect for £89 million, but it was a timely reminder of why United forked out such a huge sum for the young Frenchman they offloaded for £88 million less four years ago.
One swallow does not a summer make though. If correlation is to prove causation United will have to keep playing well without Rooney – or keep playing badly with him. United play again on Thursday evening, at Old Trafford in the Europa League, and it is believed Rooney will start. What happens if United play well and win? How Jose Mourinho deals with solving the problem that is Wayne Rooney may well determine the success or failure of his tenure at Manchester United.