In order to keep pace with the change in football tactics and emergence of the modern and versatile No 10′s, Sir Alex Ferguson unsuccessfully tried to sign youngsters Eden Hazard and Lucas Moura during the last summer transfer window for Manchester United.
What can be perhaps considered as a blessing in disguise, the failed transfer attempts and the consequent purchase of Robin van Persie from Arsenal forced Fergie to make do with Wayne Rooney as a deep-floating striker, orchestrating the play in a similar way like any other ‘natural’ No 10 would.
However, the prime convention and belief of the people, including the author, is that the England international is not ideally a No 10, but a second-striker, often dropping in the midfield during the build-up plays.
This article, thus looks at how Rooney plays for United (by comparing him with the most inform No 10 in England, Chelsea’s Juan Mata) and whether the former Everton youngster is Manchester United’s own No 10 or not.
The biggest change that has come with Rooney’s new role is his positioning.
As the following image shows, Rooney’s (10) average possession during Manchester United’s 3-2 away win over Chelsea this season was just at the half-way line, some light yards behind Robin van Persie (20) and close to the midfield duo of Michael Carrick (16) and Tom Cleverley (23).
This indicates the fact how Rooney often tracks back to be a part of the build-up play and carry out some defensive duties when the opposition mounts pressure.
On the other hand, what follows is Chelsea’s Juan Mata’s average position in a game against Stoke City. As the image shows, Mata (sandwiched between 9 and 29) was playing just almost as high as the starting striker (Demba Ba- 29).
Although it has to be noted that while against Chelsea, United played the majority of the game sitting deep and counter attacking until their nemesis were reduced to nine men, the Blues heavily dominated Stoke and hence Mata obviously had more freedom upfront.
Nonetheless, it does show that Rooney plays in a much deeper position than a No 10, as well as a second-striker, when required.
However, this has often resulted in lack of goals from the England international and Ferguson has done well to counteract this fault by instructing the player to maintain a higher position during the past few weeks, mainly since the once-contract rebel has returned from a short injury-layoff and subsequent compassionate leave.
Below is Rooney’s (10) average position against Fulham, the game in which the 27-year-old scored a pivotal winner for United late in the second-half.
Although he shifted on to the left-wing after around the hour-mark, Rooney’s position was relatively higher up the pitch, closer to Van Persie and almost on the same wavelength as Mata’s in the Stoke game. This has in turn resulted in a phenomenal output of goals for the player, with the England international having scored ten goals in his last 12 outings.
In recent weeks Rooney has probably been getting closer to Van Persie, with him scoring eight goals in his last seven* Premier League appearances. Prior to that, he was generally playing a lot deeper.
Thus, in a similar position as a true No 10, Rooney is a better goalscorer than the mercurial Mata, who has 17 strikes in 43 appearances this season, possibly indicating that the former is in-fact a No 10.
(* Think Football article was published before the Manchester United-Everton PL game)
Rooney is involved in an aerial duel around every 40 minutes, whereas Mata takes around 445 minutes to delve into an air challenge. Furthermore, even though the Spaniard is statistically ‘more involved’ in tackles, his success rate is miles behind that of Rooney. In fact, although the Englishman makes only a tackle every 81 minutes, his success rate is even better than most of the defenders.
Added to that, the tackling stats also don’t indicate how much time Rooney spends in his own half, marking the opposition attackers and making vital clearances.
This can be best judged from the fact that while Mata averages 0.1 clearance per game, Rooney averages one in every match. Not to forget, Mata, one end, records zero block per game, Rooney, has a decent stat of blocking 0.2 shots per game.
Evidently so, one trait for which the former Everton man is often praised is his ability to track back and help out his back line. Mata, however, is criticised for being mostly stranded in the final third.
Mata and Rooney both have almost identical passing rates. Added to that, both make a pass every minute – admirable stats for the two play-makers of their respective sides.
However, there are some unique variations in their passing.
Chelsea, though, prefer to play the ball on the ground, but occasionally Mata does pop up his famous ‘over the top’ balls to the attackers.
Hence, even though his passing is quite different from Mata, Rooney is equally involved during the build-up plays as the former Valencia man and one can surely label him a No 10-esque star in this strata.
A massive difference that comes between the two players is in this segment.
The main role of the No 10 is to first create chances for his attacking colleagues and then for himself.
While Mata does this job admirably well, creating a scoring chance every 29 minutes and a clear-cut chance every 161.6 minutes, Rooney is somewhat lacking in this department.
This England international creates a scoring chance every 43 minutes and it takes him around 200 minutes to make a clear-cut chance.
However, as the image below shows, Rooney takes half the time as Mata to have a direct shot at goal.
This therefore highlights how the player still displays the usual striker’s (not No 10) instincts to have a direct attempt at goal, and not just trying to create chances for his attacking colleague.
This difference is what, in my opinion, makes Rooney more of nine-and-a-half, and not a complete No 10. He is equally involved in build-up plays and even more so in defence, but Rooney can’t create chances in the same manner as a ‘real’ No 10. It has also to be noted, Rooney still provides more defensive cover as well as attacking prowess in front of the goal than a No 10.
To conclude: although Rooney is not a natural No 10 he is, as Amit Singh (also a subscriber of EPL Index) of Think Football defines, ‘a mix between a play-maker, such as Mata or Silva, and a striker like RVP’.
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