Robin van Persie may have been the hat-trick hero in the Champions League last week, but his absence on Saturday did not prevent Manchester United maintaining their good form.
Wayne Rooney stepped up in the Dutchman’s absence, scoring both goals in a 2-0 victory over West Ham United. But it was his interplay with Juan Mata that really got United fans excited for what is to come.
Mata is a number 10, and yet since his club-record signing he has operated predominantly from wider positions, coming inside at times but not being allowed to dictate play from that position for entire matches.
And yet against the Hammers that is what happened, with the interchanging between the Spaniard, Rooney and Shinji Kagawa proving very effective, and raising questions over how Robin van Persie fits into this United side.
The same question was asked following the Dutchman’s substitution against West Bromwich Albion, when the introduction of Danny Welbeck saw David Moyes’ side playing with a fluidity rarely seen this season.
It is a strange debate to have given van Persie’s goal-scoring heroics against Olympiakos. But Rooney and Mata gave an exciting glimpse of what could happen if they were paired together on a consistent basis.
And teammate Darren Fletcher was also impressed by their contribution, as he revealed in an interview with MUTV.
“(Behind the forward) is Juan’s natural position, he likes playing in there,” the Scottish international said. “And with the likes of Wayne running in behind defenders, he’ll always look to find him.
“We had great movement going forward and pace in the wide areas. People have been waiting to see that and it was there today.”
With van Persie out for between four and six weeks, fans may be seeing a lot more of the Rooney-Mata partnership. But when the former Arsenal striker returns, Moyes will have a very big decision to make.
The trick – which may be impossible to pull off – is to find an effective formation that gets the best out of them all.