Pitchside

Rooney can inspire troubled United to upset Manchester City

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For all his faults – and there are many, regardless of your favoured team – Wayne Rooney strikes a mean football.

His wonder-goal against West Ham at the weekend evoked memories of David Beckham’s arrival on the scene, but – for this writer – the audacious bicycle kick that sealed victory against City just over three years ago remains Rooney’s finest moment.

The combination of technique and context – it was ultimately enough to drive United to title victory over nouveau-riche City – just about shades both the strike against the Hammers and the goal which announced the then-teenage Rooney’s Everton emergence, a fantastic long-range effort against Arsenal.

But Rooney has had a mixed bag of a season, to say the least.

Indeed, struggles with fitness, form and focus have seen Rooney drift somewhat for a couple of years, troubles which are as much down to his own mercurial temperament and physique as they are a result of successive United managers asking him to play a deeper role than ideal for a man whose attributes are more suited to that of a main striker.

But one occasion in particular seems to get the best out of Rooney, and that is the Manchester derby.

Rooney’s goal in the reverse fixture last September elevated him to the top of the all-time Manchester derby listings, with 11 goals:

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The England striker has also bagged five in his last five competitions against the old rivals from across the city:

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He is a man with a taste for this occasion, and he is a man in form after Robin van Persie’s injury gave him the chance to play in the most advanced position on the pitch.

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It would be foolhardy to put all one’s eggs in that basket: as the above statistic shows, United are the best team in England away from home – but they are terrible in their own backyard, winning just half of the points available at Old Trafford compared to nearly three quarters on their travels.

There are two reasons for this. One is hinted at in the Opta tweet – David Moyes has stuck with what made him successful at Everton, and turned United into a primarily counter-attacking unit, usually featuring two banks of four and a lot of width.

In recent weeks he has tinkered with that formation, but the overall plan remains the same – hit the opposition on the break.

Of course this does not suffice at Old Trafford, where the crowd demands United dictate the tempo of the match.

As a result – and this is a secondary reason for United’s home troubles – the atmosphere becomes restless, agitated, and with United’s on-pitch leaders nearing the end of their Premier League self-lives, the rest of the squad struggles to manage a different kind of pressure to which they are accustomed.

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City, meanwhile, have their own, less pronounced problems - notably in defence, although Vincent Kompany returns from suspension. Whether that is enough to prevent the mandatory implosion from Martin Demichelis remains to be seen.

There is also a slight question about their attacking potency in the absence of the injured Sergio Aguero. City trounced United 4-1 in September, with two of those goals coming from the Argentine.

They average 3.2 goals per game when Aguero is in the team; that drops to 2 per match in his absence. With Rooney and United back on track, that may not be enough.

It has all the makings of a humdinger. City remain favourites, and rightly so – but odds of 23/10 for United to do the job at home seem strikingly long.

Reda Maher | Follow on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport

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