Manchester United managed to break their disappointing run of home draws this season, winning 1-0 against Tottenham Hotspur over the weekend, thanks to a goal from Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The result would have pleased manager Jose Mourinho and the fans to no end, but it came with a bittersweet ending as Mkhitaryan was taken off injured in the late stages.
The injury isn’t as bad as was originally feared, but the Armenian is expected to be out until Boxing Day. This comes at a time when the former Borussia Dortmund man was finally getting a run of games and was in great form, after a nearly 3-month period out of the first team picture.
There is no doubt that Mkhitaryan’s services will be missed by United as they head into the most important period of the season. However, they cannot risk dropping more points if they are to finish anywhere near the top four. With a trip to Crystal Palace up next, who will Mourinho replace Mkhitaryan with? Should it be United’s captain Wayne Rooney? The question beckons.
Wayne Rooney has endured a largely disappointing start to the season under Mourinho. He has struggled to get into his groove and has scored only once in the Premier League. While there are no questions over his leadership, the captain has had a hard time on the field. His pace seems way off, his touches more often than not are too heavy and things seem to slow down everytime when he is on the ball. And add to that, the constant changing of his position, things haven’t gone well at all for the former Evertonian.
However, there has been a spark of revival in his form of late. His performances against Feyenoord in the Europa League and West Ham in the EFL Cup sent reminders of his capabilities. Deployed as a No. 10 in both games, the England captain was excellent linking up with the other attackers and showed he still has got it.
But is that enough evidence for Mourinho to start his captain? When asked about it after the Spurs game, Mourinho said, “Rooney, Rashford, Lingard, Ashley Young, Memphis Depay – that’s a position where we have lots of players so that will not be another problem, to choose a player to play,” hinting that Rooney is no guaranteed starter.
With Crystal Palace’s physically strong backline, it would come in handy to have someone like a Rooney play behind Zlatan Ibrahimović so that they keep the defenders occupied and let the wide players do their work. But do United need to change the shape of their team after having enjoyed success with the 4-1-4-1 that has seen the midfield of Carrick, Pogba and Herrera blossom? Probably not. And if United stick to the same formation, would Rooney have a similar effect out on the wings ahead of someone like Juan Mata or Marcus Rashford. Again, probably not.
While it may seem harsh on Rooney to sit out multiple games despite having shown some sort of good nick, Mourinho should not look to break what is working very well. Stick with the midfield trio of Carrick, Herrera and Pogba, have Zlatan lead the line and let Martial and Mata work their magic out on the wings. With a congested fixture schedule, Rooney will eventually get his opportunity to go past Sir Bobby Charlton’s record, but for now, stick to what has been working so well.