Analysing Wayne Rooney's inept Manchester United display at Watford
Wayne Rooney has come in for criticism a lot in recent weeks, despite scoring and assisting twice in the opening three games. His performances throughout the start to this season have been woeful, but last weekend against Manchester City saw a shockingly bad performance, and he followed it up against Watford with what is probably his worst ever performance in a Manchester United shirt.
Playing behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic but ahead of Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini, Rooney again struggled to have any kind of influence. Lost between the lines and easily marshalled by Roberto Pereyra and Valon Behrami in the Hornets’ midfield as they bossed the middle of the park throughout, before Camilo Zuniga came on to run rings around Rooney with a match-winning cameo appearance to score the second goal and win the penalty for the third.
It marks an incredible fall from grace for the man who once scored around 30 goals a season, summarised by his one and only shot of the game, bizarrely skewing off of his foot and 20 yards to the right, from the edge of the box to the corner of the box and never even reaching the touchline. It’s clear to see why Jose Mourinho does not believe that the England captain should be playing upfront.
That does raise the question however – just where should he play? With a 63% pass completion ratio in the attacking third, it seems that he is not made to be a creative midfielder or attacking playmaker, but just how far back down the field will he be forced as Mourinho tries to find a role for him? Pundits claim that he cannot be dropped, but given his performances of late, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see any justification for such a claim.
With £89 million summer signing Paul Pogba also looking restricted in his midfield role, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Rooney is holding the Frenchman back. When Pogba is looking to make his trademark driving forward runs, there is no space to do so as far too often it is Rooney occupying that space. Whilst there can be questions raised over whether Fellaini is the correct partner for the former Juventus superstar in the central role, it is clear that Rooney’s presence in his current situation is preventing him from playing his natural game.
At times the United captain opted to drift out wide, which did create space for Pogba, but his performance only went downhill. Lacking the pace to take on his man on either flank and never having been the most skilful or tricky of players, Rooney instead relied on good deliveries to sustain any influence but with eight of his 12 crosses going wayward, he failed to do that. You may be surprised, but a quick look at his set piece record suggests it’s wasn’t such a shock, with only two of his five corners taken reaching a United man.
If there was one moment to sum up Rooney’s afternoon it came in the 92nd minute, as he lashed out with a hard challenge on Roberto Pereyra right by the corner flag as time wore on. When a free-kick was signalled, Rooney inexplicably almost squared up to the linesman, earning himself a yellow card for dissent in the most illdisciplined moment of his performance.
With his future and his role in this Mourinho side of superstars still unclear and a new man in charge of England, Rooney cannot afford such displays too often in a Manchester United shirt. Whilst Mourinho seems happy to go along with pundits in somehow finding a way to shoehorn his captain into the starting XI, it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify it, and it can only be a matter of time until the former Everton man is dropped.
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