Wayne Rooney’s position has been subject to debate ever since he first burst onto the scene. Some would consider him a no.10, whilst others might suggest he is best as a lone striker following an impressive 27 goal haul as the focal point of Manchester United’s attack in 2011-12. The United forward claimed that he fell out with Sir Alex Ferguson over his position, with the United boss moving him into centre-midfield at times. So where does Wayne Rooney actually play?
Rooney’s role last season
The drop in goals from 27 in 2011-12 to just 12 league season is the result of a shift in position for Wayne Rooney. The signing of Robin van Persie meant that he was no longer the focal point of United’s attacks. Rooney was ‘relegated’ in a manner of speaking, to a no.10, an out and out attacking midfielder playing a support role. Rooney also registered ten Premier League assists from his slightly deeper position. One thing that caused him to put in a transfer request was allegedly the fact that he was dropped into central midfield on occasion, a position that was relatively unfamiliar for him. With van Persie though, he certainly was no longer the main striker and was clearly relegated to a deeper role behind the Dutch forward.
Wayne Rooney under David Moyes
David Moyes has been pretty amendment that he views Rooney as a centre-forward, shifting him from a deeper role to place him up front alongside Robin van Persie. If we look at the average position maps from Manchester United versus Bayer Leverkusen we could see this first hand:
Rooney (10) is playing alongside Robin van Persie (20) in what is essentially a conventional(ish) 4-4-2 formation. The same can be said of Rooney from the defeat to Manchester City. Even though he is alongside van Persie in his average position from this tie, he played a different role. Rooney touched the ball a total of 64 times and played 39 passes, van Persie on the other hand only played 24 passes and had just 48 touches of the ball. This is reflective in the two players action-area graphics.
Rooney spends a lot of his time dropping off the front, as we might expect of a no.10, despite having a similar average position to van Persie:
Despite being positioned as a striker he is dropping off a lot into the deeper areas we would associate with Wayne Rooney, a player who often drops back into midfield to pick up the ball and influence the play.
If we look at van Persie’s action areas, we can see it as more reflective of a centre-forward, with little dropping back and spending more time in the penalty area:
So despite being alongside each other, Rooney was still playing off of van Persie, albeit not quite as a number ten, but also not quite as a number nine, more of a hybrid. Something we can see from the 1-1 draw with Southampton:
Rooney as a no.9 and a half?
What we can ascertain from Rooney’s form this season is that he is not really a number 10 any more. Rooney is playing further up the pitch nearer to Robin van Persie in what can loosely be described as a 4-4-2 formation. Rooney was also leading the line against Manchester City. Last year he was in support, which is why he enjoyed less goals for United. This season he has been better in front of goal but is still maintaining a high number of passes per game, an average of just over 45. To put that into context that is more passes per game than Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere and Chelsea’s Oscar.
One factor is that Robin van Persie has reduced his role to a pure no.9, who is no longer as involved in build up play as he was last year. RvP’s passing has reduced to averaging just 19.4 passes per game, down from 27 passes per game last season. Interestingly he is also creating less chances for his team-mates this year, with just 0.1 chances created per game, compared to 1.8 per game last season, a drastic shift in form and in the role he is playing. Rooney as such is having to work hard performing a duel role as a striker and as a no.10 to link things up, with RvP playing as a goal hanging forward now.
Rooney is more than capable of playing as a striker, as he did very well for United in 2011-12 and as he often does for England to great effect. He is also very adept as a number ten, playing in support, something he did better last season than he got credit for, he has also began to do this for England playing behind Daniel Sturridge which will be something to watch going into Brazil 2014.