Since Wayne Rooney has switched to play in a midfield position, Manchester United have lost the influence of one of their best attacking players. Rooney does have the ability to play in central midfield due to the work rate and passing ability of the England captain. However, Van Gaal’s desire to accommodate both Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao up front has meant that Rooney has been consistently played out of position.
There has been a lot of criticism surrounding United’s attacking play this season. At times they appear almost one dimensional, with Sam Allardyce claiming that the Red Devils adopted the long ball approach against his side at the weekend. One of the reasons behind this rather sluggish play is the fact that their attack lacks any real pace. Both Falcao and van Persie are not the quickest, whilst Angel Di Maria is the only player in United’s midfield to possesses any real speed. Clearly, this is an issue for Van Gaal as the team cannot unlock defences due to the slow, laboured build-up play.
As well as an absence of rapidity in the side, playing Wayne Rooney out of position is costing Van Gaal. Rooney is yet to score or provide an assist in 2015 – he hasn’t even registered a shot on target. At the beginning of the season, it looked as if a lot of United’s problems would lay at the base of their team. However, the basis of United’s problem couldn’t stem from more of an opposite effect. On paper, the attacking options Van Gaal has available at his disposal looks very encouraging. Although there is still a lot of attacking class in the team, things are not coming together for United in the final third.
Van Gaal has looked to set up in a diamond formation in recent weeks, with Di Maria playing in behind the two strikers. This has left Wayne Rooney in a deeper role, denying him the opportunity to contribute as much as he would like to United’s attacking play. It is looking more and more likely that Van Gaal will have to adjust his team yet again this season.
Although he has quality players available, the system simply doesn’t suit his captain. The Dutchman may have to consider sacrificing either Falcao or van Persie in order to allow Rooney to play in his preferred advance role. The former Everton man is United’s second top goalscorer this season behind van Persie. His lack of goals in 2015 should be a cause for concern for Van Gaal and he should be looking to fix things sooner rather than later.
Rooney’s recent struggles could also be bad news for England as well. If he keeps being played out of position it will likely impact the national side negatively, with Hodgson tending to prefer Rooney in a more advanced role. It might be difficult for Rooney to quickly adapt to a more attacking mindset for his country when he is playing his club football in a deeper midfield position.
It looks as if Manchester United have wasted Wayne Rooney in recent weeks due to the fact that he hasn’t been able to get involved in United’s forward as often as he should. He has been a real problem for West Ham in recent seasons due to his goalscoring form against the East London side, but on Sunday he was almost non-existent in terms of an attacking threat. If Van Gaal wants to see more from his Manchester United side, he should opt to play his captain in his more favoured position, as he looks a frustrated figure in midfield at the moment.