Wayne Rooney playing in the midfield is nothing new. Yet seeing him placed so deep against Cambridge United, Manchester United fan must have been bitterly asking themselves: Will Rooney The Striker ever make a return?
Ten minutes into the second half of United's FA Cup replay against Cambridge United, Van Gaal's side were winning 2-0 and and progress to the next round was all but assured.
Rooney, United's captain and the third top goalscorer in the club's history, was deep inside his own half executing a sliding tackle to win the ball back. While everyone else try to join the party, Rooney silently did his dirty job at the back.
That, in essence, is the new life of England's captain. Cambridge was the 10th consecutive match that Rooney played at the midfield; the last time he played as a striker was December 8, in the 2-1 win at Southampton.
Yet it (maybe) was the first time that Rooney was dropped so deep. He started the match as a right winger, but barely featured in attack, and spent much more time either out wide right or in his own half.
Article continues below
Even Marouane Fellaini, a true midfielder who is thought to have better defensive qualities, played a more advanced role than Rooney. Actually, it was the Belgian giant who was moved up front when United were seeking another attacking option.
That may represent a huge change in Rooney's career. We all know that during his days as a striker, the English international loved to drop deep to the midfielder. He can pass. He can tackle. He can defend.
Yet there remains a big difference between being able to play as a midfielder and actually playing as a midfielder. In Rooney's case, that difference results in significant downturn in his attacking contribution.
The match against Cambridge was the 7th consecutive match that Rooney could not find the net. Also in those seven matches, he only made one assist, against lowly Yeovil in FA Cup fourth round. In total, Rooney has had only eight goals in his account this season.
If Roy Hodgson has to choose a striker for England's next matches, who do you think he will choose: Rooney, Harry Kane - who has already scored 20 goals this season - or Charlie Austin, who managed to get into the scoresheet 13 times despite playing for struggling QPR?