Rooney-Van Persie axis has United spinning along
Cluj 1 Manchester U 2:ROBIN VAN Persie’s flying start to his Manchester United career continues. On a night when the questions kept on coming for Alex Ferguson’s side, the 29-year-old took his tally to seven goals in eight appearances, though the two he scored here will surely not avert further inquiry into United’s sluggish midfield and defence.
Each of the Dutchman’s finishes were created by Wayne Rooney, who may finally have the productive strike partner he has so far lacked in his 10-year career with United, Everton and England.
Beyond the goals Rooney engineered, there were further illustrations that he and Van Persie may be on the same wavelength, with one coming on 70 minutes – after getting behind the Cluj defence, Rooney whipped across a ball that came close to his partner’s attempt to connect with it.
When Ferguson had named his team he had hoped the focus would be on the two players he’d selected for the first time, and not on his rearguard.
United supporters would finally get to see Rooney and Van Persie in the same XI. A combination of injury, fitness and form had kept them from starting what United fans hope will become a devastating partnership.
In all, the manager made six changes with Shinji Kagawa the headline absentee as the Scot retained the same back four that had been exposed in Saturday’s 3-2 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur.
With no Antonio Valencia, Ryan Giggs or Nani, who was on the bench, this was the narrowest set-up of a United side in recent memory. While they may have walked off 1-1 at the break, United stuttered through the first half – with their lack of width allowing Cluj’s containment job broadly to be confined to the parameters of the 18-yard box.
Rio Ferdinand, who bore much of the criticism for the defeat by Spurs, made the contest’s first mistake. A poor clearance gave away a corner, though when Rafael Bastos’s delivery to Ionut Rada led to nothing more dangerous than another one it did no damage.
Cluj’s previous home match here ended in a 5-1 rout of Gloria Bistrita. For this one the locals had their camera phones trained on a three-sided ground in which Chelsea had drawn 0-0 four years ago at the group stage – and where United were about to be shocked.
Fourteen minutes had passed when Romania’s champions took the lead. As on Saturday, this was too easy. Bastos, the Brazilian striker, dropped off before aiming a sweeping diagonal pass to Modou Sougou.