Not too long ago, when Wayne Rooney was injured, criticised for his performance against Everton in the opening day of the season and even rumoured to want to leave United, I wrote an article about how we shouldn’t write him off just yet (http://bit.ly/R0DG13). So far this season Rooney is still looking for his first Premier League goal however after his three goals in the International Break I would bet on him grabbing one soon.
A few weeks on, Rooney has returned with style, although not in the way most people would have expected. In the last two games against CFR Cluj and Newcastle, he has played at the top of a diamond midfield, taking on the play-maker role. This is an intriguing development of events in such a short frame of time. (Image via Guardian.co.uk)
[quote]When I get stuck into the action as a central playmaker, I love it. I get more of the ball, I’m involved loads and I even think about playing there permanently, but only later in my career.
When Rooney made known that he dreamt of being a play-maker, no one would have expected for it to happen so quickly. Even Rooney admitted to wanting to play in that position, but only later in his career.
So it must have been quite a surprise for fans, and probably Rooney himself, when he got to play in his dream position so soon after returning from injury.
While it is still too early to tell whether this new midfield role for Rooney would be permanent, debate as to which is his best position has already taken place. Is Rooney’s new attacking midfield position better suited for United and himself, or is Ferguson just wasting Rooney’s potency and talent in front of goal?
To try and answer these questions, I have decided to compare his performance against Newcastle last week (Man of the match as a midfielder) with a match where he was performed exceptionally as a striker, which is a hat-trick performance last season in a 5-0 victory against Bolton away in September 2011. Why specifically that Bolton match, you wonder? Well, Rooney scored 2 hat-tricks last season, one in their 8-2 mauling of Arsenal at home, the other in their next game against Bolton. His hat-trick against Arsenal were all set-pieces (2 free kicks and 1 penalty), but his 3 goals against Bolton were all from open play, so it would make a better means of comparison statistically.
What the Statistics Say
As a striker, Rooney has been mainly judged by his contributions towards scoring goals only, which he has done fairly consistently throughout his career. As a midfielder, however, Rooney’s all-round play and overall contribution to the team would come into bigger question. The statistical comparison hence serves to determine whether Rooney has what it takes to fulfill such a position.
Firstly, in terms of tackling, we would expect Rooney to make a greater number of challenges in a midfield position. While this holds true for his tackles and ground duels, it is rather strange to note that Rooney had no aerial duels at all against Newcastle, whereas he had 4 aerial duels against Bolton, of which he won 3 of them.
Next, possession. Possession is key in determining Rooney’s overall contribution in the game. As a midfielder, he would need to be involved with the game more and get more of the ball. From the table, this certainly seems to be the case as in the game against Newcastle, he had more touches (74 VS 62) and he lost possession less times (15 VS 16). In addition, he wins possession for his team more regularly than when he played in the striker’s position against Bolton.
Rooney’s passing would also give an indication to his contribution as a midfielder. We can see that against Newcastle, Rooney made more passes (58 VS 53) and has better passing accuracy (86% VS 74%) than when he played against Bolton. In addition, he also made more passes in own half, showing that he goes back to help the defense more frequently. What makes his performance against Newcastle impressive is that he also made more passes in attacking half as well, showing how he supports the attack and still comes back to help out the defence.
Another aspect of an attacking midfielder would be creating chances. Looking at the table, against Newcastle, Rooney made more crosses (4 VS 0) & more long balls (9 VS 7), showing how he increasingly tries to stamp his influence and dictate the game more as compared to against Bolton.
With regards to his creativity, Rooney had 2 assists to his name against Newcastle. This is significant, as teams would rely on the midfield play-makers to provide and create the goals. Not only that, he had 3 shots on target as well, showing that his attacking prowess is very much present, and that his goal-threat has not really diminished despite playing in a much withdrawn role than before.
While we might all agree that from the statistics, it has shown Rooney to be more than adept at playing in the advanced midfield role, it is important to note that the comparison is only for one game and it is an unfair assessment to judge his overall contribution based on one performance. There needs to be a level of consistency where Rooney keeps playing in the midfield position, to determine if he really can fulfill such a position. However, that is not discrediting his impressive performances as a midfielder so far. To put it simply, so far, so good.
There could be many reasons to explain Rooney’s sudden positional change. Maybe it’s Ferguson’s way of trying to fit in Robin Van Persie, Rooney, Welbeck and Hernandez all in the starting line-up so none of them (especially Welbeck and Hernandez) gets left out of the starting line-up for too long. Or perhaps Ferguson wants to boost his attacking midfield options, with the likes of Kagawa, Cleverly, Anderson and now Rooney, all at his disposal.
Whatever it is, we shouldn’t take away Wayne Rooney’s versatility to adapt to a different position so quickly. So what happened to all the flak he received at the beginning of the season?