Red's roll on
Ferguson’s men move to the top of Group C as masterful Rooney runs the show at Old Trafford
MANCHESTER UTD 2
OTELUL GALATI 0
So often the leading man, Wayne Rooney took centre-stage at the Theatre of Dreams last night, producing a stellar display in midfield that guided Manchester United to the top of Group C of the Champions League.
The recently retired Paul Scholes, so often the playmaker here, looked on admiringly.
Even taking into account the modest nature of the opposition, Rooney was exceptional, playing some magnificent passes, working tirelessly in trying to break up Galati's intermittent attacks. His sweat-soaked shift was rewarded with a late goal, a strike from range that was granted a generous deflection to take it into the Romanians' net.
The night came at a cost. Michael Owen pulled up lame early on, departing straight down the tunnel, although it was a reflection of United's resources that Javier Hernandez replaced him in Alex Ferguson's highly attacking line-up. Rooney remained in midfield pulling the strings for United and cutting Galati's.
Good performances were also delivered by the excellent Phil Jones while David de Gea made one magnificent save, but the headlines belonged to Rooney.
England manager Fabio Capello, who was sitting a few rows in front of Scholes, could have been forgiven for feeling frustrated as well as impressed, knowing that Rooney is suspended for the group stage of the Euros.
Ferguson's decision to field Rooney paid immediate dividends, the England international triggering the move that led to United's eighth-minute goal with a superb pass to Dimitar Berbatov on the right.
The Bulgarian was the target of a few of Rooney's passes in the first half and he made the most of this delivery, sending the athletic Jones away.
Owen, sliding in, just failed to connect with Jones' cross at the near post but the ball carried to Antonio Valencia, who made no mistake from close range.
As all but the small knot of visitors among the 74,847 celebrated, it was impossible to escape the presence of a sizeable contingent of local schoolchildren. This was squeaky-voice time. If they had come to admire Rooney, he did not disappoint.
The eye kept being drawn to United's No 10, whose mastery of the ball and control of midfield was immense. Many inside Old Trafford believe that this will be Rooney's best position in the future, spraying the ball around like Scholes did.
It was not simply the accuracy of the delivery. It was the vision.
Rooney clearly carries pictures in his head, almost a running movie of where his team-mates are so he can find them first-time. One of his passes midway through the half embodied his skills.
As Galati players crowded around him, Rooney disguised his intentions, tricking the Romanians into believing he was looking for Valencia on the right before slipping the ball through to Berbatov.
The Bulgarian was promptly clattered by Sergiu Costin, Galati's captain. The visitors were not in the mood for niceties. Hernandez twice being caught by Cristian Sarghi.
The force remained with the English champions. Ferguson's team were almost 4-2-4 at times with Valencia and the left-sided Nani quick to support Hernandez and Berbatov.
United's full-backs, Jones and Fabio, were in full overlapping mode. Jones was terrific, all swash and buckle down the right, soon having a shot held by Branko Grahovac. Fabio embarked on a 70-yard dash. Then it was Jones's turn, exchanging passes with Valencia before charging towards the box. Sarghi somehow diverted Jones's shot to safety.
The ball seemed to on a mission to spend time with Rooney. Like a conductor at the Halle, Rooney kept dictating the tempo, releasing Nani and then picking out Rio Ferdinand with a cross-field pass.
Rooney worked hard when the Romanians had possession, desperately trying to close down Ionut Neagu, who sprung to life as the half closed.
De Gea proved the equal of Neagu, saving one shot and then making a marvellous stop from the Galati No 26 after Ferdinand had been exposed for pace. Ferdinand did manage to sneak out a boot and attempt to deflect the ball away but Neagu's strike was too strong. De Gea would not be beaten, stretching out a hand to protect his goal.
Still Rooney wrote the script. One of his passes released Hernandez, who found Nani and soon the ball was with Anderson. Still needing to win over the United faithful, Anderson failed to impress with a shot wide.
New half, same story. Again Rooney played the creator, ushering team-mates forward. United had the ball but lacked a cutting edge.
Grahovac, saved well from Berbatov but Anderson then wasted a good chance. As the Brazilian chased the ball, Cornel Rapa panicked with a back-pass that fell to Berbatov, whose shot flew into the side-netting.
The game drifted along. United were in charge. Ji-sung Park's arrival for Anderson seemed to delight the home fans, and the Korean played a part in United's second with three minutes remaining. Park slid the ball across to Rooney, who let fly from 25 yards out, the ball catching Sarghi and wrong-footing Grahovac.
"Rooney, Rooney" thundered around the ground. (© Daily Telegraph, London)