Sport Soccer

Saturday 18 November 2017

Red-hot Rooney the United saviour

Tottenham 2 Manchester Utd 2

Sandro can only look on as Wayne Rooney stabs the ball past Hugo Lloris to score for Manchester United
Sandro can only look on as Wayne Rooney stabs the ball past Hugo Lloris to score for Manchester United

Jeremy Wilson

AS Andre Villas-Boas took aim with mixed success at a variety of targets, it was his comparison with Manchester United that was actually most thought-provoking.

The defending champions, he pointedly noted, are actually only one point ahead of Tottenham and it is certainly tempting to wonder how the Premier League table would now look if Wayne Rooney had been granted his summer wish to depart.

As one neutral noted as he left White Hart Lane yesterday, this was quite entertaining and high quality fare for a match between two mid-table teams.

Rooney again single-handedly lifted United above their general mediocrity and salvaged a point that just about keeps them in touch with the top four, albeit nine points adrift of Arsenal.

Not only did Rooney score United's two equalisers but he was the glue that ensured his team's midfield and attack retained some semblance of cohesion.

Rooney also got back at set-pieces to make a series of vital defensive clearances and, after all the uncertainty of the summer, the issue of his contract was again raised.

Moyes expressed confidence that talks will be held "in good course" and, on the evidence of this season, securing the long-term commitment of Rooney will be vital to his rebuilding of United.

"His performances have been great and he worked incredibly hard," said Moyes. "He deserves the rewards he has been getting."

While Moyes will be delighted that he has Rooney back playing at his best, the Manchester United manager still has plenty of issues to address.

The defending champions' reliance on Rooney in the absence of the injured Robin van Persie has been startling.

Moyes conceded that his midfield had lacked the creativity to carve open Spurs.

One has to admire Tom Cleverley's willingness to take possession, the problem is that once that is the case he often seems to have little idea what to do with it.

Too many times at White Hart Lane, with the ball at his feet Cleverley raised his palms, imploring his team-mates to indicate where they wanted it. That part is supposed to be his job.

Phil Jones did the hard work alongside him well. In the No 10 role, Shinji Kagawa faded away as he so often does. No wonder Moyes ignored him for so long.

Returning from injury, it was expected Danny Welbeck might be at half-pace and he was. Antonio Valencia's excuse was not so obvious.

Moyes was honest enough to accept that his midfield lacked a certain authority and, after their chastening 6-0 defeat at Manchester City last Sunday, Spurs were initially dominant.

With Mousa Dembele returning in a holding midfield position, Villas-Boas (left) pushed Paulinho further forward in an attempt to ignite some of the creative spark that Tottenham have so obviously lacked this season.

It all meant that Erik Lamela, the club's £30m record signing, joined Emmanuel Adebayor in not even making the bench.

The shake-up initially provoked the response that Villas-Boas would have wanted. His players were incisive in their passing and could have been three goals clear inside 30 minutes.

Their one converted chance owed most to a mistake from United, with Kyle Walker driving a free-kick under the defensive wall and past David de Gea following Jonny Evans' foul on Paulinho.

Chris Smalling, Rooney and Jones were all culpable for jumping and exposing the space through which Walker scored.

The goal noticeably inflated Tottenham's confidence, with Roberto Soldado even showing signs of improving his link-up play despite finishing waywardly after a clever one-two with Paulinho.

United supporters reacted to their team's lethargy with the chant of "we're s*** but we're champions" and the players duly demonstrated that priceless ability to suddenly score even while struggling for their own rhythm.

With Van Persie still injured, Rooney had again started as the most advanced striker and pounced when Walker inadvertently cushioned a Jones cross into the his own six-yard box.

Rooney's 163rd Premier League goal brought him level with Robbie Fowler in fifth on the all-time list but more was needed after Sandro had restored Tottenham's lead with a moment of individual brilliance.

Under pressure from Cleverley, the Brazil midfielder quickly turned in-field and then arrowed a shot into the top corner. Villas-Boas and his coaching staff briefly left their technical area to join the celebrations, while gasps were audible all around White Hart Lane when the goal was replayed on the big screen.

United, though, were again level within three minutes. Welbeck had got behind the Tottenham defence and just reached the ball before Hugo Lloris, with the Spurs goalkeeper clearly catching his trailing leg.

It could have been argued that Welbeck deliberately left his back foot exposed but the obvious contact gave referee Mike Dean little choice in his subsequent award of a penalty.

Rooney was again clinical with a seventh goal in his past six matches against Tottenham to ensure that the points were shared.

Both managers looked content enough as they shook hands but, in the wider context of this most open of Premier League title races, a 2-2 draw was probably best received just a few miles down the road at Arsenal.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport