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article imageRooney & Toure's eye for goal can redefine the Manchester derby

By Tyrrell Meertins     Apr 10, 2015 in Sports
In terms of overall significance, Yaya Toure and Wayne Rooney’s decisive Manchester derby goals in 2011 shaped their individual pathways.
Although scoring goals is undoubtedly the most difficult, yet important skill in the sport, elite players are capable of producing high quality consistent performances on a weekly basis. Still, while previous Premier League champions have relied on outscoring the opposition, opposed to building cohesive, balanced units, it's unsurprising to see Rooney and Toure lauded for their goal scoring form.
Toure’s anticipation to intercept Michael Carrick’s pass led to the Ivorian storming into the box to score the sole goal to lift City to an FA Cup final, ultimately igniting their route into the Premier League’s elite. Likewise, Rooney remains a icon for scoring the most goals in derby history (11), and possibly the best with his second half overhead kick to lift United towards another domestic triumph.
United and City have split the last four of five title victories since the turn of the decade, but ahead of their second meeting of the season this Sunday, neither club is in contention to continue the trend. The reigning champions head to Old Trafford trailing United by a measly two points, and the importance of gaining maximum points shouldn’t be overlooked – a win would potentially secure Champions League football next year.
"I think it's a very important game for Manchester United and Manchester City,” said Rooney.
“It's important for the fans and, for me, it's a massive game of pride. When you play for Manchester United, you want to win these derby games.”
Where United and City have failed to reach elite standards in recent years – there was a belief that both would progress post-2011 – both Toure and Rooney endured similar individual declines. Most fans would still consider the duo stars of the global game, but in truth, they were at their sheer best four years ago.
More so, the two Premier League favourites play entirely different positions, and have been forced to move away from their natural roles in recent years. While Rooney has fielded in midfield this season, he’s naturally a second striker or a centre forward, whereas Toure, who currently sits much deeper in central areas, prefers to play closer to the box before driving into offensive positions.
Rooney’s situation at United has been quite dramatic in previous years. The desire to leave United twice has led to big-money contract extensions, yet he now holds the captaincy for both club and country. There were times when Rooney’s career at Old Trafford appeared lost, as he didn’t necessarily adapt to Sir Alex Ferguson’s short-term attempt to evolve the Red Devils, but United manager Louis van Gaal’s decision to desperately move Rooney further forward is partially responsible for the club's end of the season resurgence.
It’s arguable that at this stage in his career, Rooney feels entitled to be the key cog in his preferred role. Subsequent to Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure, United didn’t possess the quality to supply Rooney with adequate service – resulting in Ferguson forming the ideal strike partnership of pace and power with Javier Hernandez or Danny Welbeck ahead of the England international – while, Robin van Persie’s arrival provided the Red Devils with a better option upfront.
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney celebrates as he leaves the pitch following their UEFA Champio...
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney celebrates as he leaves the pitch following their UEFA Champions League round of 16, second leg match against Olympiakos, at Old Trafford in Manchester, on March 19, 2014
Andrew Yates, AFP/File
Ultimately the decision to award Rooney the captaincy was beneficial to the 29-year-old’s status, and ensured he solidified a place in the starting XI. Persisting with two strikers, Van Gaal placed Rooney in midfield, where the English international’s performances were typically subdued. Rooney, in theory, isn’t a poor midfielder, but he shouldn’t be fielded in this position if the club aspires for silverware. Apart from long cross-field diagonals, Rooney’s doesn’t provide forward penetrative passes, and he’s equally underwhelming from short distances.
In reality, United possessed better options – Ander Herrera comes to mind – and injuries to Van Persie, along with Radamel Falcao’s poor form, forced Van Gaal to not only alter his system, but also turn to Rooney to lead the line. The result has seen Rooney score six goals in his last eight games, with many believing the United captain is back to his best.
The goals, however, have overshadowed Rooney’s overall performance: Moments of individual brilliance combined with shoddy defending were displayed against Aston Villa and Spurs, while a penalty and a header from six yards out secured three points on Sunderland’s travels.
But with goal scoring records for club and country in sight, many tend to overlook the poor link up play, countless giveaways, and his inability to offer a positive influence to United’s build up play. The tenacity and passion to win games is in Rooney’s DNA, but apart from goals, and leadership, the United captain’s impact in the final third is scarce.
Former United teammate, Rio Ferdinand, expressed Rooney’s significance to United’s frontline. “Carrick returning has obviously helped but the biggest of the lot is playing Wayne Rooney up front,” Ferdinand wrote for the Sun. “Wayne's a goalscorer.”
Toure, on the other hand, operates best in the middle third, but like Rooney, his goals have overshadowed his overall impact. Unlike the United captain, though, Toure enjoyed an additional season at an elite level in City’s first title triumph of the decade.
Statistically, Toure recorded a career best 20 goals and nine assists en route to his second league success at the Etihad, but the Ivorian’s overall performances weren’t elating like his goal rate. Only three of Toure’s goals – one coming from the spot – were decisive, while the rest were converted after City secured maximum points. Toure’s goals impacted very few games, and he rarely dominated from central areas.
Nonetheless, The Ivorian is currently stuck in the club’s identity crisis. City’s inability to replace key components from their initial title triumph was also pivotal. In a double-pivot, Toure is responsible for both offensive and defensive duties, but the 31-year-old encounters difficulties doing both simultaneously, often leaving his midfield partner with ample space to cover in midfield.
Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry played key roles in Toure’s initial success in Manchester – a destroyer and a deep-lying passer – as they remained in central positions to thwart the opposition’s counter-attacks, enabling Toure the freedom to storm forward and join the attack.
Now, neither Fernandinho nor Fernando, two Brazilian born players purchased to elevate the club’s status, possesses the intelligence to cover ground for the Ivorian. This is a recurring theme in Europe as City's 4-4-2 is consistently overrun in midfield due to Toure's adventurous positioning, and the lack of a competent natural holder. Toure is often witnessed jogging back when he loses the ball, and during long spells without possession lacks discipline and is easily pulled out of position.
Coincidentally, both Rooney and Toure scored remarkable goals in the previous match day, but were fairly quiet for large portions of the match. Frankly it epitomizes their current state as footballers, relying on goals to overshadow middling displays.
Where City can’t afford to push Toure forward due to limited protection of the back four, Van Gaal has been luckily given no alternative but to start Rooney as the sole striker. This vividly epitomizes both sides at the moment. Manuel Pellegrini’s side remains shaky at the back, and their front six, barring David Silva, has been unconvincing. United, though, are beginning to showcase fluidity and cohesion in midfield, with Rooney converting chances in attacking areas.
The contrast between Van Gaal’s caution, and Pellegrini’s willingness to attack in big games is fascinating, but in terms of experience, timely goals, and individual brilliance, Sunday’s fixture could provide Rooney and Toure the platform to produce their most influential contribution since those glorious days in 2011.
The road to Sunday’s seismic derby has been turbulent, with United tipped as slight favourites to end their four game losing run against their city rivals in a match neither side can afford to lose. Perhaps tactics and general patterns may contribute to the final outcome, but a simplistic method of victory wouldn’t be farfetched.
Toure and Rooney may no longer possess the ability to control a match, but their ambition to score goals could redefine the future state of football in Manchester.
More about Manchester United, Manchester city, MANCHESTER DERBY, Premier League, Wayne rooney
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