Club Focus – Manchester United – Rooney revival poses tactical conundrum

While he may not be coming back into his best form for England just yet, Manchester United fans will have been relieved to hear that Wayne Rooney was returning to his club after just one game during the international break. His problems this year have been covered in painstaking detail by every media outlet on earth but his recent performances for United suggest that he might just be regaining his spark at precisely the right moment for his club side.

Although he has yet to reach double figures this season, Rooney’s re-emergence as a creative force will be a huge factor in any success United have this season. For much of the year the burden has fallen on the shoulders of the intermittent Paul Scholes, Dimitar Berbatov and Nani. Goals have come from all areas of the pitch and Javier Hernandez in particular has lifted the goal-scoring onus from Rooney’s shoulders but with Scholes only able to play a limited amount of games and Anderson’s long term injuries, the midfield has been decidedly shorn of invention for much of the season.

Last season Rooney was a traditional rampaging No.9, but this year Sir Alex Ferguson has withdrawn him and used him as a No.10 to dictate play in the opposition half. Even though the goals haven’t flowed as United fans may have wished, his ability to pick out passes and link up attacking moves has been increasingly impressive in recent months. With the difficult run of fixtures coming up, Ferguson will be glad to have a key player get some much needed rest.

However, the new role that Ferguson has given Rooney will be tested when they come to play Chelsea and possibly either Inter Milan or Schalke 04 in Europe. Ferguson is a believer in a 4-5-1 formation to provide defensive solidarity as a priority. This often leads him to use only one striker flanked by wingers who are capable of tracking back to cover. With the emergence of Hernandez and the withdrawn role of Rooney, this no longer works. It remains to be seen whether Hernandez will be dropped or if Ferguson will try to incorporate the Mexican into a new formation which would most likely resemble the 4-2-3-1 so popular at the World Cup with the likes of Germany, Spain and Holland all using it.

The 4-2-3-1 works most efficiently when there is a destroyer and a deep-lying creator linking with the trequartista in the hole. Rooney is capable of playing that role and Scholes and Carrick can both be deep-lying creators but United have nobody with the positional discipline of a Javier Mascherano or Nigel De Jong. Darren Fletcher has a phenomenal engine and is strong in the tackle but works much better as a box-to-box player which the 4-5-1 allows him to play rather than as a Mascherano-esque destroyer. The revival of Rooney will be music to Sir Alex’s ears but how he sets United up in Europe will be a fascinating adventure.

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