LONDON: Howard Webb makes his first Manchester appearance of the season when he takes charge of today’s derby at Eastlands: that is a happy omen for United and for Wayne Rooney in particular.
It will be the first time the 2010 World Cup Final referee has controlled a Manchester derby since the 2010 League Cup semi-final second leg when Rooney scored a last-minute winner to seal an aggregate victory for United.
Both clubs approach the clash with confidence enhanced by their decisive Champions League victories on Tuesday night. United’s four-goal dismissal of Leverkusen and City’s three-goal romp in Plzen were important stepping stones after low-key starts to the season under new managers David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini.
Both men were looking much happier on Tuesday night. Not only did Moyes have Rooney’s two-goal performance to savour but Pellegrini had the relief of a return to duty, just in time, of Vincent Kompany. City miss Kompany when he is injured more than United can ever miss Rooney.
Even in Bohemia on Tuesday, with Kompany restored for the first time since a groin injury against Newcastle at the start of term, City looked defensively vulnerable at times. Matija Nastisic is still regaining form after injury and Joleon Lescott and Javi García are not in the same class.
Last weekend, despite keeping a clean sheet in the goalless draw away to Stoke, City were fortunate to escape with a point. As Aleksandar Kolarov said in midweek: “Vincent is our captain and very important for us. He is our leader.”
That security is crucial considering Rooney’s current form. Once Rooney crosses the white line before kickoff he puts out of his mind everything apart from the challenge before him on the pitch.
His laser focus on his football was evident against Leverkusen. Gone was the transfer uncertainty of pre-season, gone was any concern about the head gash which kept him out of England’s recent World Cup ties. He has taken to wearing his protective headband like a pirate setting out to raid enemy ships.
Rooney’s two goals against Leverkusen took his total for United in all competitions to 200 – only Sir Bobby Charlton (249), Denis Law (237) and Jack Rowley (211) have scored more – and made him English football’s 33-goal leading marksman in the Champions League.
United’s fans – who may question his reasoning but never his commitment – afforded Rooney a standing ovation when he was substituted shortly before the final whistle.
Afterwards Rooney repaid the compliment, saying: “The fans have been brilliant and fantastic with me. It’s great the reception I get and hopefully I can repay them with goals and performances. To score 200 for United is great for me. I’m very proud.”
Moyes, who believes Rooney can overtake Sir Bobby Charlton as the club’s all-time leading scorer, was equally happy.
“I thought the team played ever so well,” he said. “I was really pleased.”
No doubt Moyes’s pleasure included an awareness of the mood heading into his first Manchester derby.