Juan Mata has come to the defence of his Manchester United team-mate Wayne Rooney as the pair prepare to face each other in Friday's friendly between Spain and England.
Rooney has had to endure mounting criticism for his performances as a striker this season. Louis van Gaal has opted to play the United captain up front ahead of Anthony Martial and has stuck by him despite a poor scoring record.
Just two goals in 11 Premier League appearances has left many wondering why Rooney has retained his position in the squad and a growing number of the Old Trafford faithful are calling for him to be dropped, or, at the very least, rested.
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But Mata, who himself has played in a number of positions since joining United in January 2014, has suggested Rooney plays his best football as a striker.
Speaking ahead of the friendly in Alicante, Mata says he is very proud to play alongside a great goal scorer in Rooney and believes his Spanish team-mates will struggle to contain him.
He told reporters: “When we speak about Wayne we’re speaking about the captain of England and my team Manchester United.
“He’s a very important player. He’s scored more goals than anyone in the English national team and at United. I know he can play in different positions.
"At the end it’s Roy Hodgson or Louis van Gaal who decides, but obviously if he’s close to the box he will score more.
“I feel very proud to play alongside him in my team and it will be very difficult to face him.”
Writing on the wall
Rooney appears to have reached his peak and there are few who can consider it a surprise. The 30-year-old is now in his 14th Premier League season as a first-team star and has made an impressive 416 Premier League starts in that time as well as 52 appearances from the bench. Add 107 England caps to that and a further 87 Champions League games and you end up with a tired pair of legs.
It is clear Rooney still holds tremendous respect in both the Manchester United and England dressing room, but his influence on the pitch will continue to decline if he cannot find a way to reinvent his game.