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Player Focus: Wayne Rooney isn't United's Midfield Answer

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Player Focus: Wayne Rooney isn't United's Midfield Answer

 

It was somewhat apt that Manchester United landed their 20th top-flight title in their illustrious history courtesy of a Robin van Persie hat trick, with the Dutchman assigned the number 20 following his arrival from Arsenal over the summer.

 

His 33 minute first half triple salvo gave United the three points needed to secure the Premier League title, after rivals Manchester City fell to a 3-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, in a performance where the 29-year-old attained a perfect 10 in his WhoScored rating, with all three of his shots on target finding a way past Aston Villa's Brad Guzan.

 

However, the talking point once again proved to be Wayne Rooney's inclusion in the starting XI, dropping deeper than his usual striker role to receive the ball in the middle of the park. Much was made of the future of the England international back in March when he was relegated to the bench for the Champions League second leg last 16 tie with Real Madrid.

 

Nevertheless, an uninspiring cameo appearance in the 2-1 defeat following Nani's controversial red card reinforced Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to not begin Rooney from the off in the encounter, while the veteran Scot was quick to allay fears that the former Everton trainee was set to depart before the striker started the 2-2 FA Cup draw with Chelsea five days later, a game in which he netted the second goal of the game.

 

Yet, the doubters circulating Rooney remain prominent. The 27-year-old has endured his fair share of criticisms over recent months following an underperforming spell of form over the festive period, not to mention reports that he returned from the summer for pre-season out of shape and overweight.

 

Furthermore, the speculation surrounding his future upon the arrival of Van Persie would likely have unsettled him, but to his credit, Rooney hasn't allowed the rumours to affect his performances having currently registered 12 goals and 10 assists in 25 Premier League appearances.

 

Following the arrival of van Persie and Shinji Kagawa from Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund, respectively, last summer however, many were pondering where the Croxteth born frontman would fit into Ferguson's starting XI.

 

As such, it has seen Rooney redevelop his game in order to accommodate his dogged and energetic approach to football, with Ferguson utilising those facets of his game in the middle of the park, most recently in the respective victories over Stoke City and Aston Villa.

 

It was against the Potters that saw the striker drop deeper in order to focus his creative talents in the middle of the pitch, while his tenacity was channeled to ensure the impact of Charlie Adam, Steven N'Zonzi and Glenn Whelan was limited.

 

Their input being lowered was supposed to see Rooney thrive in the role. With Michael Carrick shielding the defence, the pair formed an effective partnership that saw the former handed a license to push forward and support the attack, with his energy meaning he was able to return to his position alongside his compatriot as and when Stoke looked to attack the recently crowned Premier League champions.

 

Player Focus: Wayne Rooney isn't United's Midfield Answer

 

With it, the England man made 37 accurate forward passes over the 90 minutes, the second highest of the encounter behind Whelan (38) and the highest of any United player, with Carrick making one less forward pass (36) that found a teammate, made all the more impressive considering the fourth highest figure on the list was Kagawa, who made 24 accurate forward passes.

 

In the same game, Rooney also made the joint highest key passes for United, along with Van Persie (2), although that figure was bettered by Stoke's Adam, Whelan and Ryan Shotton, all of whom made three in the April game at the Britannia Stadium.

 

However, this points towards the defensive deficiencies that United possessed with both Rooney and Carrick in midfield. They allowed Whelan to make the most forward accurate passes and also two of the three players they were charged with containing to make three key passes apiece.

 

On top of that, both Rooney and Carrick saw their passing accuracy reach a high of just 82% and 86%, respectively, in comparison to Whelan and N'Zonzi, both of whom attainted respective figures of 95% and 87%.

 

The figure for Rooney is particularly disappointing for a player who is aiming to reinvent himself as a midfielder, especially when compared to the number of accurate passes he has made this season. Over the 25 appearances he has made for United this year, the England international has found a teammate just 981 times.

 

This pales into insignificance when compared to Carrick and Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta, both of whom are leading the way in terms of passing accuracy, with the duo having completed 2236 and 2353 passes, although the pair have made more appearances - 33 and 30, respectively - than Rooney this season.

 

The United man was also widely praised for his impact during the 3-0 win over Aston Villa on Monday, which confirmed the Manchester side as Premier League champions. Rooney provided the cross field pass for Antonio Valencia which led to van Persie's opener before his perfectly weighted ball to the Dutchman to add his second.

 

The two passes glossed over a somewhat disappointing opening 45 minutes for Rooney, especially when taking into consideration his passing accuracy for the half. While his teammates found a United player with at least 90% of their passes - Carrick scoring the lowest of the quintet in the middle of the park with 91% - the striker could only muster a 79% pass accuracy, and while this rose to 86% by the time he exited the field of play in the 72nd minute, it was another underwhelming figure for the player.

 

That completion rate also appears that much worse when you consider he made the second highest inaccurate passes during the Old Trafford fixture for United midfielders (9), despite being withdrawn at the expense of Danny Welbeck with 18 minutes of normal time remaining.

 

When compared to his accurate passes, the 54 he completed ranks him as the second highest midfielder, unsurprisingly behind Carrick on 85. With the former Tottenham Hotspur man playing the full 90 minutes on the pitch, it saw Rooney complete an accurate pass every 1.33 minutes on the pitch, which was still a far cry from Carrick's 1.05 minutes per accurate pass.

 

While Rooney earned his fair share of the plaudits for his play in the build up for the first and second goal during the win over Aston Villa, the fact is his stats weren't good enough for a player that is hoping to drop deeper and occupy a role in the midfield. He has the tenacity and energy to succeed in the role if need be, but his pass completion suggests he is merely a temporary solution to a permanent problem in the United midfield.

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