Manchester United fans are enjoying one of their best periods after Sir Alex Ferguson left the club. Win against Liverpool and many United fans will start believing that United have finally come out of Ferguson’s shadow. Ironically, United’s club captain’s career is going the other direction. Wayne Rooney equaled Sir Bobby Robson’s club records of 249 goals in the FA Cup tie against Reading but his career at United is in serious danger.
Against Hull City at Old Trafford, Rooney started in his favoured number 10 position behind Marcus Rashford. United’s attacks in the first half involved some intricate, quick and creative play but the final pass was missing and Rooney was the main culprit for this. Surrounded by quick and intelligent players like Mata, Mkhitaryan, Pogba and Rashford, Rooney struggled to get involved in attacking moves and couldn’t even get a shot on target. The main difference between this year’s United and the United under Van Gaal is the freedom with which the attacking players move around and make runs. With Carrick and Herrera largely holding their positions, Pogba, the wingers and Zlatan have had the freedom to switch positions, overload one side and play exciting football.
This kind of system needs all the players to be in sync and confident enough to play one-touch football. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Juan Mata who lack pace, more than make up for it with their excellent close control, their first touch and of course their footballing intelligence. Rashford, Martial and Mkhitaryan have pace and can also play those intricate,one touch moves. Rooney at the moment neither has the pace nor the close-control to take part in these moves. His footballing intelligence is still world class and we can still see him take up some good positions but more often than not his ability on the ball doesn’t allow him to showcase his intelligence on the pitch.
Coming back to the age old question of What is Rooney’s best position?, it is clear that Rooney is not going to be Mourinho’s first choice striker or number 10. His best bet to start a match would be on the wings where he is tasked to track back and defend, more than attack. One more option could be in midfield, which Mourinho in first ever press conference said that he would never play him there. But today’s Rooney lacks pace, needs time on the ball and has a poor first touch. The only position where one can mask these deficiencies is a midfield three.
So once against this season, we are likely to see Rooney in a midfield, especially with Morgan Schneiderlin leaving the club. Carrick-Pogba-Herrera are the preferred midfielders for Mourinho this season, but injuries to either of them would unbalance the whole team. Both Schweinsteiger and Fellaini have not played much football this season and Mourinho might turn to his club captain and once again the Rooney in midfield experiment will start.