Rooney gives perfect reply to his critics
Manchester Utd 4-0 Feyenoord
This was a statement from Wayne Rooney that words could never match.
The Manchester United captain had condemned as "disgraceful" his treatment in the wake of his late-night drinking escapades while on England duty and vowed last week not to let his critics "write my obituary".
Well, he proved last night that there was life in the old dog yet. Rooney's goal not only kick-started United's march to an ultimately comfortable victory over Feyenoord that put them in control of their Europa League destiny; it made him the club's all-time leading scorer in European competition and moved him to within one of Bobby Charlton's club record 249 goals.
It was a good night all round for those who have found themselves on the periphery at Old Trafford this season, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan sparkling on his first start for the club since September 10 as United recorded their biggest win under Jose Mourinho.
A point against Zorya Luhansk in Ukraine next month will guarantee United's progress to the knockout stages.
Mourinho had promised beforehand to involve Mkhitaryan but given that he has hinted at such things before and not followed through, it was probably still a pleasant surprise for United fans to see the lesser-spotted Armenia captain in the starting line-up.
He played like someone eager to unleash months of pent-up frustration, too.
Not exactly scintillating but hungry, urgent, alert.
The same could be said, too, of Rooney, who was clearly determined not to let the moment pass without making an impression.
It was that pair who combined to good effect in the ninth minute, exchanging a quick flurry of passes only for the attack to break down as they entered the penalty area but it was a signal of their intentions.
Rooney would be the one to break the deadlock but not before United had been indebted to Sergio Romero, afforded a rare start in goal, for keeping Feyenoord at bay.
The Dutch had resolved to sit quite deep, defend in numbers and hit on the break when the opportunity arose and midway through the opening period they did just that.
Jens Toornstra swept a lovely lobbed pass into space on the left for Eljero Elia to chase. The winger ghosted forward, nipped past Phil Jones and pulled the ball back for Toornstra, who had carried on his run. Romero blocked the shot and then showed tremendous agility to thwart Dirk Kuyt on the rebound, sticking out a leg to turn the former Liverpool forward's effort narrowly wide of a post.
United needed a goal and it arrived ten minutes before the interval, with Rooney both architect and poacher.
Receiving a throw-in down the left, he spun away nimbly from his marker, surged forward and swept a pass into the feet of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
As the Swede paused then glided inside Jan-Arie van der Heijden, Rooney knocked Toornstra to the ground but the infringement was not spotted, enabling him to pick up Ibrahimovic's pass unchallenged.
There was nothing crude about the finish, though, Rooney dinking the ball over the advancing goalkeeper. It was a landmark European goal, yes, but also his first at Old Trafford this season.
Paul Pogba was also enjoying himself. There have been signs of late of the Frenchman starting to settle down after a difficult start in the wake of his £89m move from Juventus, although is it any surprise his upturn in form has coincided with Michael Carrick's return to the team?
Carrick had forced a good save early in the game and, together with Pogba, he formed a strong alliance in midfield.
It helped that Juan Mata and Mkhitaryan were involving themselves so much on the flanks, cutting inside to good effect and asking plenty of questions of Feyenoord's defence.
Had Mkhitaryan not be hacked to the ground by a combination of Wessel Dammers and Toornstra after an electrifying burst through the middle of the pitch, he would have been clean through but somehow play was waved on.
Mkhitaryan was at it again before long, exchanging a one-two with Ibrahimovic and darting deep into Feyenoord's penalty area only to fire his shot into the side-netting.
Moments earlier, Mata had escaped Toornstra's attentions and attempted an audacious lob that was frantically tipped over the crossbar.
Rooney was instrumental in United's second. Carrick intercepted the ball to feed Ibrahimovic and he found Rooney, who squared it for Mata to apply the finishing touch.
Ibrahimovic claimed a third when his intended cross was inadvertently turned in by goalkeeper Brad Jones and Jesse Lingard swept home a fourth late on. l Southampton's hopes of reaching the Europa League's knockout stages have been left in the balance after a 1-0 defeat at Sparta Prague.
A familiarly ineffective performance against a team they had beaten earlier this season means they must at least draw at home to Hapoel Be'er Sheva in December if they are to qualify.
Costa Nhamoinesu's early goal proved enough to ensure Sparta will finish top after their fourth successive European victory, and that Southampton, for whom Shane Long played the full 90 minutes, had lost their chance of being seeded.
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