United need forward thinking to help frustrated Rooney
Striker still looking lost against Portsmouth and in desperate need of support
Perhaps it is because he is now 66, or maybe it is a result of the serenity that comes from finally winning a second European Cup, but Sir Alex Ferguson was remarkably confessional in the build-up to this season. He admitted to Sir David Frost that it had been a mistake to sell Jaap Stam to Lazio in 2001 and then later, during the club's tour of South Africa, he conceded that errors had been made in his deployment of Wayne Rooney. With such candour on offer, it is surprising more was not extracted from the normally obstinate Scot.
It would, for instance, have been interesting to hear the Manchester United manager's views on his decision, two summers ago, to sell Ruud van Nistelrooy to Real Madrid. Was that a mistake too? Ferguson may never say it was but he appears to regret letting the prolific Dutchman go. Why else would he be pursuing Dimitar Berbatov with such vigour? Upon signing him - and United are confident they can do so this week for about Â£25m - the Bulgarian will be expected to provide everything Van Nistelrooy once did - an outlet for the side's dynamic and willing runners, a target for those able to play a raking pass from deep, and of course goals. Despite his current lack of "focus", a record of 46 goals in two seasons proves the 27-year-old Bulgarian is more than capable of supplying those.
Scoring, it has to be said, is not exactly a weakness of United's. They managed 80 league goals last season, 16 more than the second best, Arsenal, and in Cristiano Ronaldo they had the division's most potent player. But it is undisputable that while Louis Saha remains injured and Fraizer Campbell inexperienced United lack a centre-forward of genuine calibre and as they aim to become the first team in 19 years to retain European football's biggest prize, not to mention match Liverpool's record of 18 domestic titles, it makes perfect sense to get the reinforcements in now.
For the time being, however, Ferguson continues to use a fluid attacking system, but it is fair to assume that the likes of Barcelona and Chelsea will not be quivering with trepidation at the sight of Darren Fletcher playing at the point of United's attack, as was often the case here.
Rooney started up front, with the returning Carlos Tevez and Anderson playing just off him, but the England man often moved out to the left in an attempt to escape the smothering attentions of Portsmouth's central defenders, Sol Campbell and Younes Kaboul.
As Rooney drifted, and struggled to hide his frustrations at having to do so, Fletcher came through the middle on more than one occasion and it was the Scot's darting run to the near post which led to the first goal. But this can hardly be ideal. Counting last night's goal as well as the one against Newcastle last week, the Scotland international has scored 11 times for United in the past eight years.
A central striker would not only be more prolific, he would also allow them to keep the ball better in their opposition's final third of the pitch. All too often last night it failed to stick, and Portsmouth were able to break.
The hosts dominated possession in the first half and should have taken the lead when Peter Crouch found time for a shot only for the chance to be obliterated by an excellent interception by Patrice Evra. More ruthless sides will undoubtedly take those opportunities.
Only the foolish would suggest United cannot win more prizes without a striker - their play remains too scintillating and their spirit too strong for that not to be the case - but it can only help to have one around. Van Nistlerooy scored 150 goals in 200 starts for United and it cannot have escaped Ferguson's attention that he has continued to excel in La Liga.
The 32-year-old has plundered 41 in 61 starts for Madrid and is showing no signs of slowing down - he scored again in their 4-2 Super Cup victory over Valencia in the Super Cup on Sunday.
Such potency could prove to be the difference between reaching another Champions League final and actually winning it, and Ferguson appears to realise that. Having allowed one temperamental but effective striker to leave, he is now on verge of signing another one.