Nineteen goals away from equaling the legendary Manchester United forward Sir Bobby Charlton’s record for most goals scored by a Manchester United player and two goals shy of enjoying the cult status as England’s all time top scorer alongside the same Sir Bobby, Wayne Rooney’s statistics are nothing short of swashbuckling. Although the England hitman has been United’s top scorer yet again, a tally of 14 goals this season, does no justice either to his incredible record or to his abilities that have won many plaudits over the years.
Credit where it’s due, Rooney’s versatility has come to United’s rescue as he was deployed as a defensive midfielder or as an attacking mid, when key players like Michael Carrick, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera were either missing out due to injury or enduring a lean patch of form. But Rooney’s bit part role has seen him underused upfront where neither Robin van Persie nor Radamel Falcao had a season to cherish. With manager Louis van Gaal openly admitting in the latter part of the season, that United lack a 20 goal a season striker and United being reportedly linked with strikers like Karim Benzema and Alexandre Lacazette, it is tough to assume that Rooney would be the perfectionist Dutch manager’s first choice as the lone striker. Here we take a look at how Rooney fared in different positions last season and how the potential arrival of new players in the summer would affect his role in the side.
Rooney as a striker in a 4-3-3 formation
A fine winning run in the latter part of the campaign that saw United almost nailing down the Champions League spot, with comprehensive wins against Tottenham, Liverpool and City, coincided with Rooney being reverted back to the No 9 role alongside Young and Mata, who was used as a false right-winger, in a three men attack. Rooney was outstanding against the likes of Tottenham and Manchester City where he kept the opposition defenders on their toes. But his form soon faded away in tandem with United’s where three back to back defeats saw United’s Champions League spot threatened, only to be saved by the inability of other contenders like Liverpool and Tottenham to pounce on the opportunity. Rooney endured a dismal afternoon at the Goodison especially, where he was completely marked out of the game by the impressive duo of Jagielka and Stones. As Everton scored three past United, a frustrated Rooney began to pull deeper and deeper only to become more ineffective and hamper any attacking potential United possessed. Van Gaal could have been irked by this as his philosophy demands the center forward to be the focal point of the attack and he being out of position takes a toll on the balance of the side.
4-3-3 is definitely Van Gaal’s preferred formation and he seems keen to buy players that would fit into this system. Rooney admitted that Van Gaal wanted him to have fewer touches per game and be more clinical upfront. Speaking to Gary Neville Rooney described how the Manager recollected the striker (thought to be Ivica Olic) at Bayern Munich averaged 10 touches per game and scored with two of them and Van Gaal wanting him to emulate that feat. Rooney on the contrary had his lowest number of touches in a game standing at 35 which is way more than the par set by the manager.
Rooney as a striker in the 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 formations
Manchester United started the season with Rooney upfront alongside Chicharito in a 3-5-2 formation against Swansea. Although Rooney scored, he had a match to forget as United succumbed to a home defeat against the swans. Rooney struggled to find form as United drew against Sunderland and Burnley. A change in formation followed as United lined up in a 4-4-2 diamond against Queens Park Rangers and that was the best game United had played thus far and Rooney playing alongside Van Persie in attack excelled scoring and assisting a goal.
Rooney as a midfielder
Prior to the match at King Power stadium Van Gaal expressed his discontent at the roles played by Rooney and Mata. Mata was downgraded to a place in the bench whereas Rooney was pushed back to a midfield role to accommodate Falcao in the front line. But that strategy backfired as a lacklustre United lost to Leicester City by a staggering 5-3 scoreline. Rooney’s position kept shuffling just like United’s form, as United huffed and puffed through matches winning quite a lot, rather unconvincingly.
Reintroduction of Michael Carrick was vital to United’s season and to Rooney’s form as the midfield stalwart brought more calm and composure to the side and in the mean time relieving Rooney of his defensive burdens. Rooney was mostly used in the attacking midfielder role or sitting deep alongside Carrick with Mata in the number ten role during this period, where Van Gaal experimented with Falcao, Angel Di Maria and James Wilson alongside Van Persie in the attack. Rooney was in a rich vein of goalscoring form as he found the net against Arsenal, Liverpool, Hull and Newcastle. It’s of no surprise that when Carrick is back in the side Rooney is a better player and is more of an attacking threat.
With Manchester United reportedly on the market for a new number six, Rooney could be used lesser in a deep midfield role next season. If United can swoop a combative defensive mid with a good reading of the game, like Bastian Schweinsteiger or Morgan Schneiderlin, Rooney could easily reinvent his attacking prowess. Either in the number ten role or as a front line striker, Rooney will be desperate to rediscover his goalscoring form. With Falcao leaving and Van Persie’s future up in the air, Rooney and James Wilson remain to be the only strikers sure to feature in the United kit next season. But unless United fail to land an out-and-out striker, which is unlikely given how the manager has been open about signing one, Rooney would have to be content with a No 10 or an attacking mid role. With Sir Bobby Charlton’s record in touching distance, Rooney would certainly be daydreaming about that forward role but the Manchester United skipper would have no second thoughts in putting the team’s ambition ahead of his own.
This article was researched and written by Ashish Krishna. You can follow him on Twitter.