When Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United in the summer of 2009 to join the Spanish giants Real Madrid, the debate raged about how the club could replace him.
In terms of success, they could not, as they came second in the Premier League to Chelsea having won it for the previous three seasons with the Portuguese winger.
However, the team did score more goals (86) than in those previous three seasons, and won enough points (85) to have won them the title, as they did, in the 2002/03 season.
Now Wayne Rooney, the striker, has intimated he wants to leave Old Trafford.
The England international and Ronaldo have been United's two stand-out players of the past few seasons, and a glance at the statistics shows what a gap they will leave.
In each of United's last three title-winning seasons, the pair contributed to score at least a third of the club's Premier League goals, including an astonishing 54 per cent of strikes in the 2007/08 season.
They also had a big hand in setting up goals, with 40 per cent of assists in 2006/07. Ronaldo's absence was obvious last season, despite Rooney's stellar haul of 26 league goals. One has to wonder how United will fill the gap if Rooney goes.
Inside the numbers
A familiar look
West Bromwich Albion and Blackpool have been the Premier League’s two surprise packages this season, the promoted clubs claiming 12 and 10 points respectively from eight games. Couple that with Bolton Wanderers’ fine start and the top half of the table has an unusual look. But the top five already has a familiar view. Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur – last season’s top five in a different order. What are the chances those teams will stay there for the rest of the season?
Top five after eight games in 2009/10
Manchester United 19
Tottenham Hotspur 16
Manchester City 16
and in 2010/11
Manchester City 17
Manchester United 14
Tottenham Hotspur 14
Too much of a good thing
Wigan Athletic v Bolton on Saturday is a derby game in the north west of England. Much is usually made of derby games, due to the local rivalries they stir up. English football is littered with such match-ups. Wigan v Bolton does not create much of a buzz though. Why? Because derbies in the north west are so frequent. Wigan, Bolton, Blackburn Rovers and Blackpool are all from the county of Lancashire. So are Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton. The longest distance between any of them is just 52 kilometres. The unique occasion of two local rivals is diluted somewhat when it happens 56 times a season, as it does in the north west.
Local derbies in 2010/11
Area No of games
North west 56
North east 2