Wayne Rooney was in fine form for Manchester United on Wednesday as he scored a hat trick in the 4-0 over Club Brugge in the second leg of the Champions League qualification playoffs.
Rooney went 10 games without scoring dating back to last season, and the 29-year-old striker was under a lot of criticism for his play to start the season.
The pressure on Rooney is even greater this season, as the team sold Robin van Persie to Turkish side Fenerbahce during the summer, leaving Rooney as the Red Devils’ only top-level striker. Behind him, the team has Javier Hernandez and James Wilson. Hernandez is a solid player, but not a starter for a team like United. Wilson is still only a teenager and you can’t expect him to have a major impact.
Manager Louis van Gaal has said that he also sees Marouane Fellaini as a striker this season. Usually a midfielder, Fellaini can provide some extra size up front with his aerial abilities. But Fellaini is unproven at the position, so it didn’t come as a surprise when van Gaal said that he thinks Rooney can score over 25 goals this season.
Rooney looked sharp against Brugge and was absolutely lethal inside the penalty box. The problem to start the season has been that Rooney hasn’t been given those kind of through balls on his feet inside the penalty area. He’s been forced to try and get ball down in the air or shoot from long range. When he gets the ball at his feet in those situations, Rooney is one of the best finishers in the world.
United fans, along with van Gaal, will now be hoping that Rooney has gotten over the hump and that he can put up similar performances in the Premier League. The United manager spoke about the confidence he had in Rooney ahead of the game against Brugge.
“He knows my standards and he knows what I want from a striker,” van Gaal told manutd.com. He thinks he can perform [in that position] and I think that also, otherwise I would not be playing him there.
“Wayne is a multi-functional player and I tried him in various positions last year. But I think that his best position is the striker’s position and he agreed with that conclusion.”
Van Gaal will surely be delighted over Rooney’s performance in Belgium, and the key now is to make sure that he gets those types of passes by his teammates. Both the first and the third goal were the result of Rooney making smart runs into the box and Memphis Depay and Juan Mata providing him with excellent passes.
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It should be said that the Brugge defense was giving Rooney way too much space to make the runs, and he will be tighter marked in the Premier League, but although Rooney has been saying all the right things, he must be relieved to be finding the back of the net again. The last time Rooney scored for United in a competitive match prior to the Brugge game was back in April against Aston Villa on Matchday 32 in the Premier League.
Van Gaal was pretty straightforward in his answer in the press conference after the game when asked if the goals will boost Rooney confidence.
“Yes of course, every goal shall give confidence to every player and also to Wayne,” van Gaal said to manutd.com. “But I am very happy for him. Wayne has the best mentality that you can imagine. Such players of that level shall always come back.”
The goals comes at a very good time as United will look to bounce back from a scoreless draw against Newcastle last weekend as they travel to Wales for a game against Swansea on Saturday. After that, Rooney has two important games with the English national team in the European Championship qualifiers. Van Gaal might be the happiest person now that Rooney finally scored, but England head coach Roy Hodgson is likely a close second.