MANCHESTER United will want more than just a first-leg lead from its Champions League playoff against Bruges on Tuesday.
A goal from Wayne Rooney would be very welcome, too.
Rooney’s form is the main concern in an otherwise solid start to the season from United, which has won both of its opening games in the Premier League by 1-0 scorelines.
The England captain, who played out of position in midfield for chunks of last season, is United’s No. 1 striker now following the off-season departures of Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao. However, Rooney hasn’t scored in the last eight games for his club and has only attempted one shot from open play this season.
Against Aston Villa on Friday, Rooney only touched the ball once in the penalty area all game.
“All the media has writtenr one year thatat I have to put him in the striker’s position,” United manager Louis van Gaal said Monday, “so it’s amazing that after two games you’re doubting your own opinions. I cannot understand that. I have always confidence in my players.”
Rooney should be given another chance to end his barren streak when Bruges visits Old Trafford for what might be the biggest mismatch of the 10 playoff matches. Each winning side over two legs enters the group stage starting next month, which will earn those clubs 12 million euros ($13.1 million) just for advancing - as well as 2 million euros for winning the playoff.
Bruges was the Belgian league’s runner-up last season and is in third place after four games of the new season. It was a European Cup runner-up to Liverpool in 1978 and a Europa League quarterfinalist last season.
Louis van Gaal leap to the defence of Rooney.Source: Getty Images
Seeking to return to the main draw of the Champions League after a year’s absence, United should prove to be too much for the Belgian visitors.
Crucially, the 20-time English champions look more assured defensively with a midfield barrier of Michael Carrick and new signing Morgan Schneiderlin offering better protection, while Van Gaal’s high pressing game is proving difficult for opponents. Van Gaal also has the option in midfield of Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger, who could be handed his first competitive start.
“We have had a better start than last year and also two clean sheets,” Van Gaal said. “That says about our structure and balance, so I have confidence that we will develop ourselves to a much higher level.”
The Dutch coach will want to see more from his attack, with Netherlands forward Memphis Depay yet to justify his billing as potentially the next Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford. It may only be when Rooney finds his form that Depay will prosper.