Maybe Wayne Rooney will turn out to be Manchester United's Captain Marvel after all. Not many people expected that to be the case last summer, when he seemed certain to join Chelsea, but anything is possible when Rooney is in this form, even goals from 57 yards out. If he ever scores a better goal than his first in United's slick 2-0 win over West Ham United, we may have to stop football altogether, because there would be nothing left to see.
A week that began with faith in David Moyes disappearing at an alarming rate has ended with United looking more like their old selves, the inclusion of Juan Mata and Shinji Kagawa allowing them to play with a panache that has rarely been evident this season. This was an excellent team performance, as impressive as anything United have produced under Moyes, but in the absence of Robin van Persie, Rooney was the main man. Wearing the captain's armband seemed to imbue him with superhuman powers at Upton Park and scoring twice moved Rooney to third in United's all-time list of goalscorers.
His first goal, struck after eight minutes, was the story. Rooney was 57 yards out when he struck a bouncing ball goalwards and while West Ham's goalkeeper, Adrián, will not enjoy the replays which, unfortunately for him, will be played for years to come, this was still a moment of pure genius and it was fitting that David Beckham was there to see it. Was this better than Beckham's wonder goal against Wimbledon in 1996? Moyes diplomatically swerved the debate. "Nobody expected Wayne Rooney to do that," West Ham's manager, Sam Allardyce, said.
It was hard to know what to expect from United: would we see the swashbuckling side that stormed past Olympiakos on Wednesday night to reach the last eight of the Champions League or the one that was embarrassed by Liverpool? That defeat forced Moyes to answer some awkward questions and the last thing he needed was to come to Upton Park, a place that Sir Alex Ferguson described as a "war zone" after a bruising draw last season, with Phil Jones as his only centre-back. While West Ham were too tedious to capitalise, Moyes will be grateful to have Rio Ferdinand back against Manchester City on Tuesday.
With Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic missing, Michael Carrick had to drop back from midfield. He is hardly the grisly sort of defender required to deal with Andy Carroll but Moyes was not being generous when he said that Carrick made the job look easy. Moyes's plan for Carrick and Marouane Fellaini to "tag-team" West Ham's striker worked handsomely and Carroll's only moment of threat came after 15 minutes, when he headed straight at David de Gea.
Moyes's side played as if a huge weight had been taken off their shoulders but the way they took the lead after eight minutes of dominance left everyone rubbing their eyes in disbelief.
There appeared to be no danger when Rooney challenged James Tomkins just inside West Ham's half. However Tomkins misjudged the bounce – Allardyce insisted there was a nudge – and Rooney let fly with an astonishing shot that hung in the air for an age, so high it was almost in the clouds. What looked like a hit and hope turned out to be something far more inspired. Soon a panicking Adrián was sprinting back towards goal, then he was running around in a circle, like a dog chasing his own tail, and the ball bounced high into the net. It took a moment to register what had happened. Rooney, who has not always played with this much freedom in recent years, put it down to "instinct". "My only worry was the bounce, whether it was going to take it over the bar," Moyes said.
Beckham nodded approvingly. He would have enjoyed United's performance in the first half. Van Persie's knee injury meant that Mata could work in tandem with the delightfully nimble Kagawa, starting for the first time since 22 January. They were both denied by Adrián, while Carroll cleared Fellaini's early header off the line.
Inevitably, Rooney extended United's lead. He started one of many counter-attacks after 35 minutes and when Mark Noble made a hash of clearing Ashley Young's cross, Rooney's finish was clinical. This was a tantalising glimpse of the future, with Mata pulling the strings in the middle. For the first time since his move from Chelsea in January, he looked like he truly belonged in a Manchester United shirt. West Ham were limited opponents, though, and a third successive defeat leaves them six points above the bottom three.
West Ham were poor,ran out of ideas long before the final whistle and will rue their failure to give United's makeshift defence a more searching examination. But sometimes nothing can be done when a player as good as Rooney is in the mood.