Tuesday night’s Champions League playoff fixture showcased a very much improved Manchester United side. New boy Memphis Depay scored two and substitute Marouane Fellaini added another late on.
Despite the obvious signs of improvement, there was one player who’s frustrating season continued droning on. That man was Wayne Rooney.
Rooney has been deployed in a lone forward role in the three competitive matches United have played so far and each of them have yielded no goals and no assists. This is especially strange for a player who always contributes to a match in one way or another.
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It leads to the debate over what is causing this alarming dip in early season form. There are really a number of plausible factors, one of which, is Louis van Gaal’s rigid system.
Van Gaal’s way of operating at Manchester United proved too much for a number of top quality players, like Angel Di Maria and Robin van Persie. Van Gaal had previously told Rooney to be more patient as a forward and stay higher up the pitch.
However, the England international has always been one to roam the field in search of the ball and this new, more defined role might be restricting the forward.
Rooney occupied a similar lone forward role back in the 2009/10 season when he plundered 34 goals. By putting two and two together, one would believe this season should be no different. However, a lot of things have changed since the year of 2010.
CHANGE OF POSITION AND PERSONNEL
For starters, Rooney has been shunted around multiple positions, rarely receiving consistent playing time as a forward.
The Englishman has also admittedly lost some of the explosiveness that made him such a feared forward in years gone by. There’s also a clear cut difference between Sir Alex Ferguson’s free flowing football and Van Gaal’s patient possession.
John Brewin of ESPNFC also highlighted the fact that a certain Antonio Valencia is no longer present in the team. One might remember the excellent partnership the two forged back in 2010.
In the current United side, there is no Valencia-esque player. And while Rooney’s overall performances in the last three games have not been up to standard, neither has the service.
Juan Mata drifts towards the middle as almost a third central midfielder, while Memphis Depay frequently cuts inside too. All in all, a lone forward role no longer looks so promising for the powerful Englishman.
NUMBER TEN AT TEN
There is a way to fix this problem though. Rather than play Rooney up front, Van Gaal should play Wayne just off the front. Some may vehemently disagree with this point, but Rooney has been deceptively productive from this position.
In the 2013/14 campaign, Rooney primarily played in a number ten role and it was in this very position that the England captain scored 19 goals and assisted a further 17.
Against Brugge, Rooney offered us glimpses of his ability to bring others into play, something that is vital for an attacking midfielder. The ingenious flick for Depay carved out a clear cut chance that should have been taken.
Rooney also slid Depay through on goal earlier in the game as well. The 29 year old’s excellent passing range is also a major plus.
Van Gaal has already voiced his disliking of playing a midfielder in that role. Instead, he wanted a forward in this position. Logically, Rooney is the best equipped forward to play this role.
Javier Hernandez cannot play anywhere but upfront, Adnan Januzaj and James Wilson are still developing, and Depay has already failed to impress in attacking midfield.
Manchester United’s captain has evolved over the years into a player that is no longer a lone forward. Maybe it’s time his role in the team matches the number on his shirt.