Rooney, playing behind Ruud van Nistelrooy in a Manchester United team that reverted to the attacking formation that conquered England and Europe in the late 1990s, was footballing eye candy. With Ji-Sung Park and Ryan Giggs willing wing accomplices, he tore Fulham apart.
Ferdinand, however, was as off the pace as Jonathan Woodgate had been for Real Madrid last week. He, though, did not have the excuse of an 16-month injury lay-off. With Sol Campbell back to fitness, and John Terry in imperious form, Eriksson has a hard decision to take ahead of the World Cup qualifiers against Austria and Poland.
Having been complicit in both Fulham goals, Ferdinand's dire afternoon reached a nadir when United fans booed his assumption of the captain's armband when Giggs was substituted.
One expert observer on Saturday was Chris Coleman, the Fulham manager, and a centre-half good enough to win 32 international caps for Wales before injury ended his career. Questioned on Eriksson's quandary, he intimated that Ferdinand should be the centre-half left on the bench. "The obvious choice is John Terry," Coleman said. "He is the best and most reliable. Playing centre-half is not [only] about last-ditch tackles, though he's good at that. It's also about making the right decisions. Terry always knows whether to drop off or squeeze up. He's a good talker and organiser." And for his partner? "If Sol gets back to form, and it looks like he is, I wouldn't look any further than him. Rio's a fantastic centre-back, but you have to look at who is playing the best, who is the most reliable."
Ferdinand's first error came when he allowed Collins John to control Brian McBride's second-minute flick-on. This was compounded when he stopped playing to appeal for handball (a doubtful claim) allowing John to score with the aid of a deflection off John O'Shea. His second gaffe came when he shaped to clear Claus Jensen's free-kick, then pulled out, wrong-footing Edwin van der Sar and enabling the cross to bounce inside the far post.
"Obviously, there were some mistakes in the first half and people were defending pretty badly," said Sir Alex Ferguson. A lack of alternatives at injury-hit United means Ferdinand's position is safe, unlike Paul Scholes, who was dropped to the bench despite Roy Keane's absence.
In their place , Alan Smith and Darren Fletcher supplied such youthful energy that United often appeared to be playing 4-2-4 with Park, Giggs and Rooney displaying the exuberance of liberated men. For the equaliser, Park turned Niclas Jensen, ran 30 yards, glided between the centre-backs, and was then bundled over by Moritz Volz. Van Nistelrooy dispatched the penalty for his ninth of the season.
A minute later, from Giggs' pass, Park released Rooney with a sublime touch to put United ahead. Van Nistelrooy restored the lead after Ferdinand's error when Park squared having been released by a magnificent Rooney pass. There was a suspicion of offside but Coleman, admirably, did not make a fuss.
Goals: John (2) 1-0; Van Nistelrooy pen (17) 1-1; Rooney (18) 1-2; C Jensen (28) 2-2; Van Nistelrooy (45) 2-3.
Fulham (4-4-2): Crossley; Volz, Bocanegra, Goma, N Jensen; Malbranque, C Jensen, Diop, Boa Morte; McBride (Helguson, 72), John (Radzinski, 77). Substitutes not used: Elrich, Leacock, Warner (gk).
Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Van der Sar; O'Shea, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Richardson (Bardsley, 57); Park, Fletcher, Smith, Giggs (Ronaldo, 77); Rooney; Van Nistelrooy (Scholes, 84). Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Pique.
Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).
Booked: Fulham Boa Morte, Diop; Manchester United Fletcher.
Man of the match: Rooney.
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