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Rooney central to plans

IT'S amazing how easily the mind can now accommodate the notion that Manchester City and not United are better equipped to take on Barcelona at their own game.

But if anything proved the point last night while both sides of Manchester went about their business in the Champions League, it was the band-aid use of Wayne Rooney by Alex Ferguson to add something new to his midfield.

Year after year, autumn into winter, Ferguson and has team have generally coasted through the group phase, so comfortable with the opposition that he could dig deep into his reserves and give lads like Darron Gibson a run.

Much the same is happening this season but the context is very different. His squad is younger and fresher but lacks quality in key areas. Even defence, which used to be a strength, is looking rickety.

The stated target for Ferguson when he returned from the summer break was to push things up a level and find a way to match the team that danced rings around his players at Wembley last May.

But more and more it seems like Manchester City is the first obstacle he must overcome before he should think about Barcelona and, as of this moment, he does not have the tools to do even that.

Last night, Ferguson reached deep into his bag of tricks and threw Wayne Rooney into the playmaking role against gritty Romanians Otelul Galati in a desperate experiment designed to fill the boots vacated by Paul Scholes.

He had some success too, but probably not enough to justify denying Javier Hernandez his best attacking partner over the long haul.

"He showed great awareness of that role," a buoyant Ferguson (pictured below) said afterwards.

"His selection of passes at times was very good and showed great energy and determination -- we got a really good performance out of him.

"We had injuries and that is one of the reasons we played him there.

"Tom Cleverley is injured, Michael Carrick is injured and Darren Fletcher played on Saturday but it was better he played next Saturday.

"It was an option for us and a good option because he has all the qualities you need to be a central midfield player," he added.

Ferguson knows he has to do something to address the fact that he has nobody in midfield that can play a pass or spot a gap. Plenty of hod carriers and box-to-box men but nothing like the creativity Barca and, indeed, Manchester City boast.

Yaya Toure was a revelation, scoring twice and threading a mazy path through midfield and into the danger zone, while David Silva twinkled in and out of the game, his movement fluid and his passing always clever.

Roberto Mancini has something going at Eastlands now and there is a sense that his team is growing and settling at the same time.

It was odd to see Roy Keane stuck for words when he was asked about Manchester City's long term prospects at the end of ITV's coverage in Spain.

Despite his bitter parting from Old Trafford, he is still a loyalist when it comes to red and blue but standing pitchside in Villarreal, he could do nothing else but acknowledge that Manchester City are the real deal.

When asked whether they represented the Premier League's best hope for success in the Champions League this season, he just about muttered the standard response favouring Manchester United, but his heart wasn't really in it.

Apart from the simple fact that he knows United are in trouble, Keane must be sick in the stomach that he has been forced to put himself about as a pundit to help remind chairmen that he is still alive. He trotted out a range of stock comments beside Martin O'Neill and Gareth Southgate and looked very much like a man with other things on his mind.

We know that he does, indeed, have plenty on his mind and that if he is lucky and brave, he will soon have Leicester City to worry about.