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Wayne Rooney could revive Manchester United career in midfield

Last season, with Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie starting up front for Manchester United, Wayne Rooney found a brief home in the centre of midfield. Rooney played some excellent football in the centre of the park, drawing comparisons to Frank Lampard in the process. However, Rooney’s midfield tenure came to an end eventually, as his performances were increasingly poor each week.

In recent weeks, however, Rooney has had somewhat of a renaissance in midfield. Playing in a midfield three, Rooney has the freedom to roam in higher areas of the pitch and get involved defensively. His performance against Everton was representative of this, as the midfielder created many chances and notably stopped an Everton effort on the line. Rooney looked comfortable and composed, and it was reflected in his numbers, too.

Rooney completed almost 93% of his 56 passes, including 10 long balls (the most of any outfielder on the pitch) and two key passes. In defence, he completed two tackles and an interception, as well as a block. Many claim that Rooney has declined in pace, but he has not shown it at all recently, as shown by his two dribbles per game. When moved away from the spotlight, Rooney is able to have a more definitive impact on the matches he plays from deeper areas.

With the ability to pass, tackle, be physical and obviously score goals, Rooney could become a key player at the heart of United’s midfield. However, as shown by some of his poor performances in midfield, there obviously is a formula to get Rooney to succeed. With the right environment around him, Rooney is key to succeeding, and today we look at some of the surroundings that would help Rooney succeed.

Competition

Wayne Rooney seems to always perform well when he wants to earn something. Louis van Gaal opts to start Rooney every match because he is captain, but Rooney would likely be more successful if he could be replaced when in bad form. Juan Mata is the perfect player to provide competition for Rooney, and Mata could even start alongside the Englishman against teams that set up to defend and counter.

Three Midfielders

In his poor patch in midfield, Rooney often played in a midfield two with Michael Carrick, and United was outnumbered in midfield by far. Rooney will often not assert himself in possession aspects of a football match, meaning United always needs to play three players in the centre of the park to ensure Rooney does not need to do the things he struggles at.

Energy in Midfield

Against Everton, United’s midfield looked weakest when Everton brought on Gerard Deulofeu. This is because the introduction of the Spaniard quickened Everton’s transition football, allowing them to move the ball faster than United. With Carrick and Marouane Fellaini in midfield, though the latter played well, United lacked the mobility to deal with Everton’s midfield at their fastest.

If Rooney lines up alongside Morgan Schneiderlin and Ander Herrera as opposed to Carrick and Fellaini, United does not depend on Rooney to defend and squeeze space. Instead, Rooney can focus on distributing the ball and keeping composure in midfield, the latter of which is probably the only weakness of a Schneiderlin-Herrera midfield. The less space Rooney needs to cover, the better he can cover that space, regardless of how much his legs may decline in the coming years.

Space

Because of his poor first touch, Rooney often struggles to create openings and find spaces to penetrate. However, Rooney can perform magic if space is provided to him. This explains his inability to play as a lone striker because he is losing his ability to create space for himself. Luckily for Rooney, United specializes in players who can create space for others. Herrera and Mata create space by manoeuvring in tight spaces and reducing the space of opposition midfielders.

Time

Regardless of how good he looked against Everton, a transition into midfield is going to take time for Rooney, similar to Blind’s transition from midfielder to defender. United fans have to be patient if they want him to become the “new Pirlo” they have dubbed him because this transition does not occur overnight. That being said, under the right circumstances and in the right situations, Rooney can become a key midfielder for United for a couple of years.

If he establishes himself in the advanced role of a midfield three, he can progressively move deeper down the pitch to have a more integral influence on matches. Though it takes time, the rewards could be infinite, and Rooney seems to be the right player to take Fellaini’s responsibilities in the United midfield as the Belgian looks increasingly likely to move on. If Rooney does not have to start every game and is comfortable being a fringe player next season, he could rediscover himself in a United side that looks far more settled each game week.

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