There is no defence for Wayne Rooney and Philippe Coutinho’s performances on Sunday, but Mark Holmes has sympathy for Newcastle United.
Rooney atrocious in Manchester derby
In my notes during the Manchester derby on Sunday I wrote that Wayne Rooney was playing much higher up the pitch than he had done in previous games – at least ones I had seen. Often criticised for dropping two deep and leaving Manchester United without a focal point up front, the new thirtysomething looked determined to continue his good goalscoring record against City.
It was not long, however, before that comment had been crossed out and replaced simply by the word ‘atrocious’ in big letters. It was the only description you could give a performance that saw Rooney lose the ball more than any player in red despite having the least touches of any outfielder that started the game for United.
As has been the case throughout Rooney’s career, as things got worse, he got deeper. Having began the game on the shoulder of Vincent Kompany, Rooney was dropping well into his own half to get on the ball – proceeding to lose it soon after. He had only 50 touches of the ball yet lost it 28 times.
It was a remarkable performance – for all the wrong reasons – which should have won him a mark lower than the 5/10 he received in the media. Both the Daily Mirror and The Times felt there were worse performers in the Manchester City team – Fernando, Raheem Sterling and Wilfried Bony in the case of the Mirror – but make no mistake about it, Rooney was by far the game’s least effective player.
Louis van Gaal said afterwards he was “sick” of answering questions about Rooney, but perhaps his frustration stemmed from what he surely acknowledges was an extremely poor performance from his captain. Just a week after praising Rooney’s character, how Van Gaal must hope for the opportunity to rave about the 30-year-old’s qualities on the pitch.
Anthony Martial was United’s brightest attacking spark despite again playing on the left flank, with Memphis Depay out of favour. That situation will not lost forever, however, and Ander Herrera has impressed far more in the No.10 position in recent weeks than Rooney did before him. For how much longer can Van Gaal persist with Rooney?
Van Gaal has made it clear throughout his career that he has ‘balls’. Sooner or later, he is going to have to prove it at Old Trafford.
Coutinho no better in Liverpool draw
I wrote after Liverpool’s draw against Southampton on Sunday that the Reds’ failure to win in three games under Jurgen Klopp should come as no surprise.
Daniel Sturridge, Christian Benteke, Jordan Henderson, Danny Ings, Dejan Lovren, Roberto Firmino and Joe Gomez were all ruled out of his first game in charge at Tottenham last weekend, and only Benteke and Firmino have since returned to action, as substitutes. With so many key players out injured, of course Liverpool are going to struggle.
However, one apparent key player that has started in all three of Klopp’s games so far is Philippe Coutinho. Accused by Mark Lawrenson before the Southampton game of turning into a “one-trick pony“, the Brazilian again failed to produce anything of note despite being used in a more central position.
Poor control, wayward shooting and sloppy passing were the main features of Coutinho’s performance against Saints. Having inherited a player that won Liverpool’s Player of the Year award last season and has been linked with both Barcelona and Real Madrid in recent times, Klopp must be wondering what all the fuss is about.
Benteke’s goal and all-round performance in the second half was the main positive for Klopp to take from the draw, but so far he has been unable to inspire a great deal of improvement in Coutinho, Adam Lallana or James Milner.
A manager is only as good as his players, and Klopp, like Rodgers before him, needs much better from his.
Newcastle a better side than Sunderland
They may have lost 3-0, but Newcastle looked a much better side than Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Sunday.
The Magpies were totally dominant in the first half, managing 13 shots and never looking troubled at the other end by a side that should have been buzzing with Sam Allardyce taking charge of his first home game against the club’s fiercest rivals. But the Black Cats just couldn’t get on the ball.
Having thrashed Norwich City 6-2 the week before, Newcastle looked in a strong position to claim a win which would have lifted them out of the relegation zone, but Fabricio Coloccini’s controversial red card on the stroke of half-time put paid to that. Whatever your opinion on referee Bobby Madley’s decision, it is hard to argue it was not a match-changing one.
The Magpies, however, will be just fine. It was always going to take a little time for their summer signings to find their feet in the Premier League, but Georginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic in particular are starting to look like great captures. With Ayoze Perez also impressing, Steve McClaren is building an exciting team far removed from the dour one he inherited following years of inactivity in the transfer market.
Despite Sunday’s result, it would take a brave man to back Sunderland finishing above Newcastle this season.
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