Having lost to Chelsea, slipped out of Europe at the hands of Bayern Munich last week and been held to a goalless draw by Blackburn Rovers at the weekend, it could be described as a statement of the obvious but Manchester United's over-reliance on Wayne Rooney – half-fit for the first game, absent for the second – is troubling for the club, Mike Phelan admitted yesterday.
Although United have lost matches with the 34-goal striker in their side this season, their attempts to win the title have been undermined by Rooney suffering an ankle injury during the last minutes of the Champions League first-leg defeat to Bayern Munich.
Phelan, United's assistant manager, does not suggest his side are a one-man team but does accept they have to be capable of operating without their star man. "Wayne Rooney is having an exceptional season," Phelan said. "We can't get away from that. But this is 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."
Creative quality was in short supply on Sunday though. Although Antonio Valencia was United's most obvious attacking threat, the winger also missed their best chance. On the other flank, Nani was wasteful in possession too often. Between them, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs struggled to impose themselves.
Federico Macheda, for all his talent, was anonymous and his strike partner Dimitar Berbatov cut an increasingly desperate figure. Berbatov, who has scored just 12 league goals this season, cannot be expected to shoulder the responsibility for all United's problems but his lack of dynamism is obvious. The Bulgarian is not delivering what Sir Alex Ferguson would have expected when he paid a club record £30.75m for him last season, a decision that now looks even shakier because it was the trigger for Carlos Tevez's growing disenchantment that eventually saw him move across Manchester to City – who United meet on Saturday.
Rooney should be fit for the game, although Rio Ferdinand's participation depends on the severity of a groin injury that restricted his movement against Blackburn.
"It has not been the greatest couple of weeks," Phelan admitted. "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."