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.

Patrice Evra should have done better than allow the Senegal winger to cross, then Pantelis Kapetanos’s finish beyond David de Gea went unchallenged by Jonny Evans and was greeted by the stadium announcer deliriously shouting “gooaaaaaaaalll!” and the home crowd going mad.

Rocked, United moved forward instantly from the restart and won a corner. But when Rooney’s cross came back to him, he could only deliver a centre that Mario Felgueiras punched to safety.

Later, the home keeper must have felt disappointment at United’s equaliser. Cluj had held the lead for 15 minutes when Hernandez won a free-kick on the left. Rooney stepped up to find Van Persie and his attempted header came off a shoulder, sending the ball looping over Felgueiras.

At the break Ferguson strode off, hardly enamoured at what he had witnessed and with the look of a man about to turn his famous hairdryer up a notch or two.

Speaking at half-time he said: “We are doing most things correct in terms of passing, but losing that goal the way we did is a shocker. An absolute shocker. The way Cluj play everyone is behind the ball – that is what they are built on. The counter-attack is what they love to do, they will just sit in there and just hope to hang on.”

When his side emerged Ferguson resisted tinkering with his 4-3-2-1 by, say, introducing Nani. Instead, he could thank Felgueiras once more when United quickly took the lead as the Rooney-Van Persie axis again combined.

This time the Liverpudlian flicked in an elementary cross from the right which the Portuguese keeper should have dealt with comfortably. Instead, he charged out and Van Persie steered the ball home. There was a further scare at the end when David De Gea – who had a fine evening – made a sharp save from Bastos. Ferguson will not relish watching the tape of this display.

CFR Cluj-Napoca: Mario Felgueiras, Sepsi, Cadu, Rada, Ivo Pinto, Sougou (Luis Alberto 23), Aguirregaray (Nicoara 80), Muresan, Camora, Bastos, Kapetanos (Bjelanovic 61). Subs not used: Stancioiu, Diogo Valente, Maftei, Piccolo.

Manchester Utd: De Gea, Da Silva, Ferdinand, Evans (Wootton 79), Evra, Cleverley, Anderson, Fletcher, Rooney, Hernandez (Welbeck 83), Van Persie. Subs not used: Lindegaard, Nani, Powell, Kagawa, Buttner. Booked: Ferdinand.

Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (Spain).

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