Play it again, Jose; this United side thrilled…

Date published: Friday 25th November 2016 11:10

Wayne Rooney is one goal short of Bobby Charlton’s Manchester United scoring record; Wayne Rooney is now Manchester United’s record goalscorer in Europe. Rewards for consistency and longevity are coming thick and fast, but that should be utterly irrelevant when Jose Mourinho is picking his starting XI.

Rooney should now be slap bang in the centre of Mourinho’s plans simply because his last two starts have produced his finest performances of the season. This is how it should work, with Rooney vying with his teammates from a level playing field in 2016, rather than impressive numbers on a Wikipedia page. And even with a loss of pace, Rooney is currently holding his own on that playing field.

Rooney’s deft finish, sumptuous assist, intelligent movement and eye-catching combinations with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata, Paul Pogba and occasionally Zlatan Ibrahimovic against Feyenoord dared Mourinho to relegate him to the bench once again. The excellence of their combinations not only made a mockery of claims that United do not have a squad to challenge for the Premier League title, but should tempt Mourinho to change very little against West Ham on Sunday.

Mkhitaryan was almost everything we had hoped he would be – direct, daring and proactive with a hunger to go beyond his striker and an unwillingness to stand still. That Jesse Lingard has consistently started ahead of him for United is unfathomable, and now unthinkable. The fans will want to see the Armenian again on Sunday and after three straight Premier League draws at Old Trafford, they are right to crave another taste of the delicious entertainment served on Thursday.

United ostensibly had four No. 10s on the pitch and yet, instead of getting in each other’s way, each seemed to instinctively move around each other, bamboozling the Dutch defence with one-touch combinations, creating the kind of fizzing pace that we have rarely seen from this United this season. This was genuinely entertaining and exciting to watch.

People will always offer the caveat of the opposition, but there was much more to admire in this attacking unit than the one that faced Arsenal on Saturday. This was quicker, more intelligent and definitely more cohesive. They looked exactly what they are on paper – one of the most potentially thrilling line-ups in English if not European football.

Mourinho will presumably want to bring his player of the season so far Ander Herrera back into this United side, and the fear now has to be that it is Mkhitaryan who is the fall guy; there will be an easy explanation that the man making his first start for over two months cannot possibly make another just three days later.

The alternative is to trust that these United players – who have finally sent home fans home with daft grins – can do a similar job on a poor West Ham side. Perhaps it is time to rest Michael Carrick and trust that an expensively assembled front six can sweep aside the Premier League’s worst sides without a babysitter.

The impressive Rooney does not deserve to be dropped; the wonderful Mata does not deserve to be dropped; the thrilling Mkhitaryan does not deserve to be dropped; will Mourinho play fair and allow Thursday’s feelgood factor to stretch into Sunday?

Sarah Winterburn

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