MIDFIELDER or centre forward? We look at the stats to work out Wayne Rooney’s best role for Manchester United...
“I was watching Wayne Rooney today and the position he’s in is not right,” said Jamie Carragher, after the Manchester United captain and his team-mates struggled to a 1-1 draw at West Ham.
Louis van Gaal has moved Rooney from his regular centre forward role to midfield in recent weeks, to accommodate Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao up front.
Playing on the right of a midfield diamond on Sunday, Rooney, who hasn’t managed a shot on target in 2015, didn’t touch the ball once in West Ham’s penalty area - some departure for a player who had 10 goals in his previous nine games at Upton Park.
However, Dutch boss Van Gaal believes the England skipper provides him with a viable option in his 4-3-1-2 formation and insists Rooney is happy to adapt his game for the team.
“I would not say he will always be a midfielder from now on because it depends on the formation we use and the form of the strikers but in the present system I need a right-footed midfield player,” Van Gaal said.
“I think he likes playing in midfield because he is more on the ball. He can definitely play in more than one position.”
Rooney does indeed get more of the ball in midfield, averaging 83 touches in the centre of the park to 65 as a forward this season, but is Van Gaal detracting from the 29-year-old’s goal-scoring threat?
In 11 Premier League appearances in midfield this season, Rooney has scored three times and made one assist. Up front, in nine games as a striker, he has scored five times and made three assists.
Similarly, Rooney has unleashed more shots (26 to 17) and hit the target more often (eight to five) in a more advanced role, although he has created 18 chances from midfield to 11 as a forward.
Rooney has long been praised for his adaptability and has represented his country in a range of positions, including left midfield.
Whether Van Gaal will be change his mind on the matter remains to be seen.
“I have come across such exceptional players before,” the United boss said this week. “Edgar Davids was an extreme left-winger and I made him a midfielder. Michael Reiziger was a No 10 who became a full-back and Frank Rijkaard was a No 6 who played as a centre-half in my winning team at Ajax.
“I always look at the qualities of the player and decide where he can perform better for himself.”