After scoring just two goals in the first five months of the Premier League season — prompting rampant speculation that the clock had struck midnight on his career and turned him into a pumpkin — Wayne Rooney has now scored four goals in his first three league matches of the new year (and five in four overall).
Though many will say this is proof of his resurgence, it’s actually just evidence of a new strategy that is proving effective for him.
Look at when Rooney has scored his goals from the run of play during this stretch:
Man Utd 2–1 Swansea: 77th minute
Newcastle 3–3 Man United: 79th minute
Liverpool 0–1 Man United: 78th minute
(Rooney also scored penalties in the 9th minute against Newcastle and the 93rd minute against Sheffield United.)
Clearly Rooney is using his newfound ability to make himself invisible for long stretches of a given match to his advantage. He’s making defenders forget that he exists for the first 75+ minutes, as if Man United accidentally began the match with just 10 players and never thought to rectify the situation, so he can bang in goals without being troubled by the opposition when it matters most. It’s genius.
Now, one might think that Liverpool would’ve caught on to his plan after he did this against both Swansea and Newcastle, but that just shows how good he is at being invisible for such long periods of time. It’s like being hypnotized by a watch (one that doesn’t move or tell the correct time). Even if you know it’s coming, you’re still helpless against its ability to put you to sleep and control your subconscious. That’s what Wayne Rooney is doing to opposing teams.
Rooney’s approach is made even more effective when his teammates work in concert with his strategy. Against Liverpool, the shot with which he scored (which, again, did not come until the 78th minute) was Man United’s only one on target for the entire match. That’s undeniable proof that Man United have fully adopted Louis van Gaal’s philosophy of boring the opposition into complacency and then striking when they are most exposed.
So is Wayne Rooney back to his best? No. But he is using his weakness to his advantage, and that’s been enough to get results.