Manchester United have always been renowned for their spectacular goals but this season their headed goals have been some of the best.
Wayne Rooney’s goal scored on the half-volley from the halfway line against West Ham United is certainly a contender for goal of the season, and will go down in Red Devils history alongside David Beckham’s goal in 1996 against Wimbledon.
However, some of the headed goals this season at Old Trafford have been as impressive as the technical class of their strikes. Captain Nemanja Vidic’s header against Bayern Munich on Tuesday night to open the scoring for David Moyes’ side against the European champions was not only crucial in terms of United’s season, but a mark of exceptional focus and quality from the skipper.
It was a different kind of header to that scored by Rooney last weekend against Aston Villa. The England No.10 placed the ball with astounding accuracy and intent down low to the corner of the net past the Villans goalkeeper, unchallenged in the box.
Meanwhile, Mexican striker Javier Hernandez has a number of stunning headers to fill his scrapbook since he arrived at Old Trafford. In fact as I watched Vidic’ effort fly into the back of Manuel Neuer’s net in midweek I was instantly reminded of a similarly impressive goal scored by Chicharito against Stoke City in October 2010.
The forward nicknamed the ‘Little Pea’ is not so little when it comes to his aerial prowess and, like Vidic seems to attract the ball to his head like a magnet, and even with his back to goal can find the net with the back of his head.
Rooney has more time than either Vidic or Hernandez to pick his spot and place the ball but the way he readies himself, with all his weight behind him as the cross comes in is the mark of a player with exceptional awareness and focus. Rooney just swaggers into the box right by the penalty spot but it must be acknowledged that the two Villa centre-backs give a very poor account of themselves, not aware of his presence and leaving him completely unmarked yards from the goal line.
In a similar respect, Vidic’s goal in midweek from a corner kick is half testament to his intelligence to make the free head and half a demonstration of poor zonal marking from the Bundesliga champions to allow United’s skipper to get a run up and a free head in the box. However, Vidic still has a lot to do – he was clearly expecting the ball a little bit in front of him and has to arch his neck and back with his back to goal to ensure he gets enough on it to beat the keeper.
In my estimation, Vidic’ goal is most important – it ensured United travel to the Allianz Arena for the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals very much still in the tie and, in the context of the game, it was the foundation to give the English champions the hope and belief of seeing off the Bavarians.
Rooney’s goal is the mark of a player in superb form and confidence, at the top of his game, playing to his full potential but it was not a match-winning goal in the 4-1 encounter and, in fairness, was probably the easiest of the three.
Hernandez’s goal is my pick, given that he is wrestling in the 6-yard box with the Stoke defender whom he managed to lose in seconds, turn his back to goal and swing it in the top corner, leaving the keeper with no chance.
I also think his goal against Chelsea in the FA Cup last March was probably one of the best goals I’ve seen from him – he is way out near the edge of the penalty area as the ball comes in from way back on the halfway line from Michael Carrick and he plants it in the top right corner past Petr Cech from a near-impossible angle wide of the left post leaving Gary Cahill with some explaining to do to his teammates.