|Paul Pogba celebrates his first senior Manchester United goal|
Not quite meriting the Gloria in Excelsis hymn but Manchester United did reach a level they have hitherto not reached for many a season at Old Trafford on Saturday. That it came on the back of a manager finally consciously dropping a fully fit Wayne Rooney was not lost on anyone. Certainly not on the club skipper.
If Jose Mourinho has been looking for a template upon which to build his ethos at United this season, then Saturday against Leicester City was it. The Champions are the typical premier league team you have to overcome every week. That hard running, grit and determination were all nullified by a Manchester United midfield equipped with the necessary silk and steel. Traits that were all too apparently absent last week at Watford.
Wayne Rooney has and indeed retains some firmly in his corner. They've been trumping up the allegation that an agenda has been formed with the intention of getting the club captain out of the team. It has reached a point where the evidence has had to be so overwhelming that Jose Mourinho would have caused a minor revolt within Old Trafford if he had named the England captain in his first XI. It's hard to remember the last time team news at Old Trafford was as eagerly anticipated as it was on Saturday.
This is not to suggest that Wayne Rooney's talents are no longer required at Old Trafford. Far from it! He retains a fire in his belly that can still force the issue. His part in the FA Cup win and that late win at Hull are recent examples of that. The question though is whether he forms part of our best selection.
In the absence of the Captain, the club's 89m quid investment is allowed to play to his world class potential and goodness me do we need that from him. His absence also affords the club to fully exploit the talents of Juan Mata. It's arguable that nobody scored a better goal than him last weekend. His was the cherry on a perfect team goal on the end of move comprised of 18 passes.
Having looked a disjointed outfit in the first half against City and in the Watford game, it helps the team chemistry when at least some important players are allowed to play in their natural positions. The evidence on Saturday makes it even much harder for the manager to change what looks like a working template. How now does Jose justify including the captain when the result goes south again?
Wayne Rooney, even at 30, has already had a full career by the average professional standard. His own manager chose to justify his omission by explaining that he needed faster players around Zlatan. In effect, the admission there was that Wayne is no longer as fast as he should be. That in itself is no fault of his but he could do with tailoring his game to his remaining strengths on the training ground in the same way Ryan or Paul did when their legs had gone. The adage afterall is that class, if any, will be permanent.
Louis van Gaal's greatest success story, Daley Blind, reminded the home fans of his quality having suffered a dip in votes for him after his blunder in the Manchester derby. He does have his weaknesses but a look into the ranks at Manchester United suggests that the club do not have a player as useful on the ball as he is. At left back, the Dutchman managed to set up three exquisite set pieces that led to goals in the first half. Forget the Wayne conundrum, Jose Mourinho might soon be faced with making a decision between Blind and Luke Shaw and or Chris Smalling, with the Dutchman's ball retention and distribution an asset that the team could do with retaining. With plenty of six footers in the side, it makes sense to have someone who can deliver the type of crosses that allow the team to make use of their height advantage.
Having failed the first time, United are again faced with a Thursday night--Sunday afternoon double header of games. It's a routine that the club needs to get their heads around. The more important fixture of the lot will no doubt be Sunday at home to Stoke but as we quickly found out last week, the habit of losing can catch on quite quickly. United are at home for both games and so the expectation will be to carry on the momentum now that the feel good factor is slowly returning among fans.