Manchester United secured a second successive 1-0 Premier League win without their injured captain Wayne Rooney, but he should still walk back into the team.
The performance of the Reds’ young forwards during the victories over Manchester City and Everton either side of the international break have led some observers to suggest he may struggle to claim his starting place back.
“[Marcus] Rashford has registered five times in eight outings to emerge as a potent No9, the position Rooney had been playing. In the other berth where he is most effective [Jesse] Lingard has the pace and mobility Rooney can lack at No10,” writes the Guardian’s Jamie Jones.
However, the difference in United’s results with and without their captain this season suggests that his influence remains too important to marginalise just yet.
Louis van Gaal has overseen 19 games in which the 30-year-old has either been benched or unavailable during 2015/16.
The Reds have won a moderate eight (42%) of those fixtures, losing a regrettable seven (37%) and drawing four (21%).
With Rooney in from the off, the Reds have taken the laurels in a superior 15 of 29 outings (52%).
However, his influence on the side may be better illustrated through the negative correlation between his presence from the off and United losses.
Van Gaal’s side have been bested just five times in 29 outings with him in the starting XI, equivalent to a mere 17% of those games.
Rooney revealed on March 29 that he hopes to be back in full training in ten days and could yet play some part when the Old Trafford side visit Tottenham.
The Reds are 27/10 underdogs to best the Premier League’s second-placed team, with the draw 23/10 and the Lilywhites even money for maximum points.
With United one point off Man City in the fourth Champions League qualification spot and 31/20 to achieve it they can ill afford to lose if elite European football is to be played next term.
Judging by the their relative results with and without Rooney in the starting line-up this season his return to the fold should be mandatory.