Man Utd are currently favourites for the Premier League crown this season, despite claims that they’ve barely got out of second gear. What is certain though is that this current Man Utd have failed to scale the heights of previous Ferguson team’s when it comes to attacking football; with the missing link in the Utd set-up being a player creative enough to link the play between their midfield and attack. But could Utd already have the very player they are crying out for right under their noses and already within their ranks in Wayne Rooney?
Rooney has endured a tough 18 months on and off the pitch. His form since the Bayern Munich game in April of last season has tailed of rather spectacularly at times and he’s looked a shadow of his former self. The player said himself last season that the development of the goalscoring side of his game came about by a simple adjustment to his positioning and a patience to stay in and around the penalty area for longer than he usually would beneficiary.
We all know that when Rooney becomes frustrated he has a natural predilection to drop deeper and deeper in an attempt to try and influence play further forward. The fact that he’s often required further forward to finish off these very same attacks in the first place seems to be an irony completely lost on Rooney.
However, the emergence of Javier Hernandez this season could provide Ferguson with an opportunity to experiment in dropping Rooney deeper to help initiate and dictate the play. Hernandez has been the signing of the season for me, fractionally ahead of Rafael Van Der Vaart at Spurs; he’s a natural born finisher and his movement off the ball is fantastic. He’s come more to the fore recently after braces against Marseille and Wigan and the clinical nature of his finishing and maturity of his all-round play suggest that he may well be up to the task of leading the line next season.
Dimitar Berbatov has had his best season in a Man Utd shirt with an impressive haul of 19 league goals to his name so far and with ample time left in the campaign to add more. Much like Rooney discovered last term, there is nothing more threatening than a striker in and around the six-yard box and it has the tendency to unnerve even the most seasoned of defenders. The sign of Berbatov picking the ball up in his own half last season in an attempt to get on the ball was a saddening sight to see as the Bulgarian was clearly struggling with his role within the side. That personal battle appears to be at an end now and Berbatov is once again playing with a swagger to match his technique as he often finds himself as the pivot around which most attacks are built – the role he was signed to perform.
The budding partnership of Hernandez and Rooney in the Marseille game does provide Ferguson with food for thought, yet Hernandez equally excelled alongside Berbatov earlier on in the campaign at the height of Rooney’s struggles.
The Man Utd midfield appears to lack the necessary creativity and cutting edge that has become it’s staple in years gone by. Nani aside, there’s a whole lot of graft and very little craft coming from the likes of Carrick, Scholes and Fletcher. Anderson had a spurt of form which suggests that there may be something more to come from him, but the onus on creating play has fallen largely on Nani this season and Ferguson will be looking for someone to help share the burden in the future.
It’s clear that if Rooney isn’t moved backwards, then it’s pivotal that the club signs a player capable of creating chances from the middle of midfield. The likes of Gourcuff, Modric and Sneijder would all be prime candidates should the club have the necessary transfer budget in the summer to strengthen in the area, but if they don’t, they could do a lot worse than asking Rooney to perform the role.
The task of effectively replacing Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs has been and will remain one of Ferguson’s toughest ever tasks in football management. There’s a feeling that until he has done so successfully, Ferguson won’t retire from the Old Trafford hot seat.
Rooney, while nowhere near the same player as Scholes was in his pomp, does possess similar skills such as an excellent range of passing, which coupled with the vision he has to help to unlock a defence and the move begins to make a lot more sense. As long as there is someone further forward that is capable of getting on the end of these attacks, the shift has a good chance of success and remains a logical alternative for Ferguson – thankfully, the club now appear to have the very player that would make this move work in Javier Hernandez.
Man Utd’s most fearsome attack in recent years was the three-pronged strike force of Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney. Back then, the threat often came from out wide. The return of Antonio Valencia and Nani to fitness suggests Ferguson could once again implement a style of play suited to one man up top. This could allow either Hernandez or Berbatov to take the lone striker role, should Ferguson wish to revert to this and allow Rooney to start in a deeper lying role and offer the side an attacking threat from midfield, something which they’ve been unable to offer in recent seasons.
Rooney’s adaptability and inherent tenacity could make this tactical shift a profitable one for both club and player and he certainly looks capable of playing in midfield. Rooney does appear to be finding some much-needed form once more playing up top, so Ferguson may refrain from any such shifts at present.
However, going into next season, with Hernandez a year older and a year wiser to the English game, pushing Rooney further back into a deeper lying creative role could suit the needs of the club and eventually, given the time to adjust fully, the player too. Rooney is not a natural finisher, but he is a naturally creative and his enigmatic and driving presence in midfield could revitalise his somewhat stalled career.