Should Manchester United worry about Rooney, Romero and missed transfers?
While Manchester United's performances in the league haven't been scintillating thus far, the players have gotten the job done and started the campaign much more strongly than they did last year. Louis van Gaal insists he isn't concerned by United's lack of opportunities in front of goal, but if Sergio Romero's performance against Brugge is anything to go by, preventing goals may not be as easy as he believes.
The Argentinian goalkeeper was guilty of a bizarre hesitation that could have put United in a lot of trouble in their Champions League playoff on Tuesday. With the team up 2-1, an easy back-pass was played to Romero, with the Belgian league's best player, Victor Vazquez, chasing it down. Rather than coming to the ball, the goalkeeper waited for it to come to him, giving Vazquez the opportunity to stick a foot in. The goalkeeper was saved by the referee's decision to award a free kick, otherwise it could have very easily been 2-2 and all the pressure would have been on United for the return leg.
Romero has had next to nothing to do in United's opening few games thanks to the players in front of him, but it can't be too long until he is guilty of a clanger. The Stretford End are full of support, chanting his name in every week, just as they did for David De Gea. However, this is more of a form of encouragement for the new keeper, whereas it was praise when it was done for his predecessor.
United may need to score a few more goals against Newcastle on Saturday if they are to collect another three points. And who is going to do that?
Wayne Rooney has been on the receiving end of some criticism since being given the leading striker's role by Van Gaal. He has acknowledged that he needs to score more, with his last goal coming the first weekend of April, but is confident the goals will come.
"I've had one bad game this season and everyone's all over it," he claimed, presumably referring to his performance against Villa, although it's safe to say that the criticism has stemmed from his accumulation of below-par displays.
As the club's top earner (he has one of the largest salaries in world football), captain and main striker, it's fair that Rooney be held to higher standards. His status makes him a bigger target for criticism than most, but he's probably used to that by now.
Van Gaal is unlikely to leave Rooney out of the starting lineup, although he does have a few options to consider ahead of the game. Adnan Januzaj and Memphis Depay have impressed in attacks so far this season.
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Depay is not a finished article yet, as his inability to complete his hat trick with an easy finish from Rooney's pass against Brugge showed, but he certainly seems to be a player who won't be crushed by the expectation from United fans -- unlike former No. 7 Angel Di Maria.
Javier Hernandez will be hoping for some playing time, too, after making his return to Old Trafford on Tuesday following a season on loan at Real Madrid. He played with his usual enthusiasm, and the 15 minutes he played up top with Rooney supporting him seemed to improve the latter's performance.
United play Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City over the next couple of months, so games like this, against last season's 15th-placed team, have to be dealt with. United want to be in the best position possible when the more difficult games start rolling in, so maintaining their concentration against Newcastle is a must.
The fans could all do with a pick-me-up, too, after seeing transfer targets Nicolas Otamendi and Pedro join rivals Manchester City and Chelsea, respectively. Chief executive Ed Woodward insists that United weren't interested in Otamendi, and while that may be true, it's hard to explain why he kept travelling to Barcelona if Van Gaal wasn't overly bothered about Pedro.
United have the opportunity on Saturday to prove they don't need these players -- and to placate their supporters.
Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.