Manchester United must learn to win without Rooney says Phelan

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Manchester United assistant boss Mike Phelan has admitted the Red Devils must learn to win without Wayne Rooney.

Although United have lost matches with their 34-goal talisman in the side this season, the wheels have fallen off their domestic campaign since Rooney suffered an ankle injury during the last minutes of the Champions League first-leg defeat to Bayern Munich.

With Rooney out, United failed to make any impression on Chelsea in their top-of-the-table duel at Old Trafford until it was far too late.

That defeat looked like being costly even before, again lacking Rooney, they failed to score at Blackburn yesterday, a result that leaves them a point adrift of Chelsea, having played a game more.

The results have done nothing to dilute the impression of United being a one-man team, a situation Alan Shearer alluded to recently and a view the former England captain is certainly not alone in sharing.

And while Phelan does not subscribe to that view, Sir Alex Ferguson's number two does accept United have to be capable of operating without their main man.

"We can't rely on that situation (Rooney)," Phelan told the BBC.

"Wayne Rooney is having an exceptional season. We can't get away from that.

"But this is Manchester United. We have a lot of other quality players in the squad.

"At times you are going to miss people. When that happens, others have to come to the front and show the calibre that brought them to the club in the first place."

Not many did that yesterday.

Although Antonio Valencia was United's most obvious attacking threat, the Ecuador star also missed their best chance.

On the other wing, Nani was wasteful in possession too often.

Between them, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs struggled to impose themselves as they would have liked.

Federico Macheda, for all his talent, was anonymous and his strike partner Dimitar Berbatov cut an increasingly desperate figure.

Berbatov cannot be expected to shoulder the responsibility for all United's present travails.

But he is clearly not delivering what Ferguson expected when he splashed out a club record £30.75million on him at the start of last season, a decision that now looks even worse because it was the trigger for Carlos Tevez's growing disenchantment that eventually saw him move across Manchester to City.

There was more to that deal than mere annoyance with Sir Alex Ferguson.

Rumours at Old Trafford have continued for months that Tevez's "purchase" price was £40million, a sum the player is still not worth, despite his brilliance this season.

There is little doubt though that Tevez's energy is better suited to the United style than Berbatov's silky skills.

It could certainly be the trigger for supporter backing, something Berbatov has struggled to inspire.

That Tevez can kill off the slenderest of title hopes United still harbour at the weekend when United visit Eastlands provides the backdrop for probably the only fixture Ferguson's men could approach at the present time without their thoughts being dominated by what has gone wrong.

Ferguson welcomes the derby as a chance to secure bragging rights for the next few months, although United fans have been reduced to hoping they can dent City's hopes of accompanying their neighbours into the Champions League next term.

Rooney should be fit, although Rio Ferdinand's participation depends on the severity of a groin injury that reduced the 31-year-old to the role of passenger yesterday and could yet cause worry to England coach Fabio Capello.

"It has not been the greatest couple of weeks," conceded Phelan.

"The last three games have not gone the way that we wanted but you have to take these things on board and you have to carry on.

"The title is not in our hands now, which is disappointing because you always want control of situations. We have not got that.

"But it is not over yet. There are a lot of big games to be played.

"It is a funny season and hopefully we will still be in it at the end."