Berbatov's five-star show puts the focus on Rooney

Manchester United 7 Blackburn 1
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The Independent Football

It was the elephant in the room at Old Trafford following a stunning victory over Blackburn; a well-paid and high-profile elephant in the room, but an elephant none the less. As Manchester United turned in a devastating attacking performance that will send ripples of minor panic among their title rivals, Wayne Rooney completed eight months without a goal in open play for his club.

Significantly, Sir Alex Ferguson was quick to wax lyrical about the centre-forward's performance alongside five-goal Dimitar Berbatov following the victory and, true to script, team-mate Michael Carrick leaped in to talk up the claim that Rooney is back to his former self.

Yet, the inescapable fact is that, aside from penalties against West Ham and Rangers, Rooney has not scored for United since 30 March when he injured his ankle in a costly Champions League defeat at Bayern Munich.

Admittedly, Rooney has spent much of the intervening time in the treatment room, the tabloid newspapers or embroiled in an unseemly contract dispute but, nevertheless, a run of 14 games without a non-penalty goal would be of concern even if it did not include this seven-goal romp against a disgracefully inept and disinterested Blackburn side.

Factor in an additional 10 largely disappointing England appearances in that period and Rooney has scored one goal in open play on his last 24 outings for club and country, that solitary effort coming in the comfortable European Championship victory over Switzerland in September.

In that context, the contract debacle last month, in which Rooney accused United of failing to match his ambitions, arguably comes as something of a welcome distraction given that it directs attention away from what is becoming an alarming lack of productivity in front of goal.

"Wayne looked back to himself today, and I'm sure there's still more to come from him," Carrick said. "He'll score big goals for us throughout the season."

And well he might although, aside from hitting the crossbar in Glasgow in midweek, there has been little evidence of that of late. Certainly, while he had significant parts to play in Berbatov's opening goal after 72 seconds against Blackburn, and the second for Park Ji-sung, the fact that he did not even look like scoring against a defence as unspeakably bad as Rovers', is hardly a ringing endorsement of the resurrection of Rooney's former sparkling goal form.

Contrast his display, in and around the Blackburn area, with that of Berbatov, who joined Andy Cole, Alan Shearer and Jermain Defoe in becoming the only player to have scored five goals in a single Premier League game.

The Bulgarian poached a simple third, scored his hat-trick from Nani's pull back early in the second half, made it 6-0 after pouncing on Park's blocked shot and scored his fifth in the 69th minute from his own rebounded goal attempt. Somewhere in there, after 48 minutes to be precise, Nani claimed a deserved goal of his own before Christopher Samba's 83rd-minute consolation header.

But for Sam Allardyce, happy to talk about anything other than his team's shambolic surrender, Rooney's recent goal drought should not be confused with his all-round form.

"Everyone can go through periods when they don't do it," the Blackburn manager said. "And just because he hasn't scored, it doesn't mean he hasn't played well."

Five-goal heroes

Five goals in a Premier League game:

Andy Cole

* Manchester United 9-0 Ipswich

4 March 1995

Alan Shearer

* Newcastle 8-0 Sheffield Wednesday

19 Sept 1999

Jermain Defoe

* Tottenham Hotspur 9-1 Wigan

22 Nov 2009

Dimitar Berbatov

* Manchester United 7-1 Blackburn

27 Nov 2010

Scorers: Man Utd Berbatov 2, 27, 47, 62, 70, Park Ji-sung 23, Nani 48. Blackburn Samba 83.

Substitutes: Man Utd Evans (Vidic, 64), Obertan (Park Ji-sung, 72). Unused Kuszczak (gk), O'Shea, Giggs, Hernandez.

Blackburn Hoilett (Goulon, 28), Linganzi (Emerton, 52), Morris (Diouf, 52). Unused Bunn (gk), Givet, Hanley, Benjani.

Booked: Blackburn Salgado, Diouf.

Man of the match Berbatov. Match rating 8/10.

Possession Man Utd 62% Blackburn 38%.

Shots on target Man Utd 9 Blackburn 3.

Referee L Probert (Wiltshire) Attendance 74,850.