It wasn’t always pretty, but it was a win. Manchester United overcame Aston Villa 4-1 at Old Trafford today with goals from Javier Hernandez, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney. The game never looked like a 4-1 win for either team before United’s third goal, which effectively killed the game, but Rooney, along with his new strike partner Mata, were the difference for United. Before the third goal, the game was pretty much 50-50, and Christian Benteke could have had a hat trick on the day, but he didn’t, and United got the win.
Thanks to the injury to Robin Van Persie, Rooney is now playing as an all-out striker, and Mata is filling his usual position just in-behind. When he played this position previously in the 2011-12 season, he scored 27 goals in 34 games as he blitzed his way through the Premier League, but Sir Alex Ferguson decided to return him to his natural position the very next season. Now may well be the time to play him there again, permanently.
That would, of course, clash with Van Persie when he is fit again, but Rooney can replace the goals the Dutchman brings and allow Mata to also play in his best position. It must be a consideration for manager David Moyes ahead of next season. Mata himself has looked better in recent weeks, since Van Persie vacated the scene, and the game against Aston Villa was a game when Mata really seemed to be settling and coming into his own.
He regularly dropped deep to help United maintain possession, and also was a threat around the Villa penalty box with his probing passes. These are positions he really doesn’t get into when playing out wide, out of position. The Van Persie injury has been a big help for him, as it has inadvertently kick started his United career. If Rooney can continue to score the way he has been, and the way he has in the past playing this position, then it could be the way forward for United.
The rest of the season will be the proof of that, of course. Aston Villa gave United a good game, especially in the first half and early in the second. Rooney, however, in tandem with Mata, was the difference — they made the team tick and gave them a cutting edge. The question is whether they can continue it now, Or even blossom. If they do, how long they stay together may no longer be an open question, it may be the future.