It’s no big secret that United have been struggling to score goals and really dominate games. At least not to the extent that they should be considering the sizeable splash of transfer cash this summer. This has left fans and pundits alike scratching their heads and grasping for answers.
I am certainly one of those wondering where all the goals have gone. Sure, there are some aging strikers leading the line in van Persie and Falcao, but they are proven goal scorers who just aren’t getting the job done.
I do realize that some of this is simply a matter of perception. Manchester United currently has scored the fourth most goals in the league with 43, but, as they say, perception is 9/10 of the law.
The midfield is packed full of offensive talent and the entire attacking lineup is made up of players any manager or fan would love to have. Yet somehow they manage to crawl through matches spending nearly as much time passing it back and forth between Jones and Smalling as they do launching crosses in the direction of Falcao and van Persie.
One possibility is that Wayne Rooney is the cause of all these problems. As captain of the team he has made himself indispensable regardless of his form or position. For whatever reason van Gaal has determined that Rooney can no longer play as a striker despite the fact that it is clearly his best position.
Instead, he’s been pushed back into midfield where he can be found nearly as deep as a defensive midfielder at times or played out wide in the diamond.
Not only is this position not a good place for Rooney to be playing, but there are better players in the squad that could be played in those positions. The thing about Rooney’s current role is that he is being used as the player to drive the attack. I believe that this skews his statistics to look much better than what you see in a match.
He is being tasked with the job of carrying the ball forward and distributing the ball to create opportunities, which also means that other players are not getting the same amount of time with the ball or chances to create that could be beneficial for the team.
Here is a breakdown of passing statistics for United’s attacking midfielders on a per game basis:
|Stat per Game||Wayne Rooney||Juan Mata||Ander Herrera||Angel Di Maria|
|Avg Pass Length||19.10m||16.40m||16.08m||19.71m|
|Successful Take Ons||1.19||0.45||0.85||2.12|
Statistics taken from Squawka.com
To be fair, Juan Mata has had his own problems with moving the ball quickly and the stats could be much worse. In fact, I really did think that the stats would bear out my own theories that there are better passes and creators in the team. Instead they seem to show that Rooney has been more than capable as an attacking midfielder.
My biggest gripe with this Manchester United team and their play is how slow and ponderous their play has been all season long. Gone are the days of taking attacking risks and moving the ball quickly. Instead we are left with a team that passes it around just for the sake of possession as if they are the 2009 Barcelona team.
The issue with this is that they don’t have the players who can then move the ball with the intensity needed to break down opponents who know they need only pack the middle and final thirds full of players to shut down passing lanes.
Wayne Rooney is one the culprits in this style of play. He’s far too eager to play the long “Hollywood ball” instead of picking out a good pass. Of course when that pass is pulled off it looks great and can unlock an oppositions defense, but far too often it does little to nothing to help the team. In fact, more often than not the hang time on the cross field pass gives the defense time to get back and regroup.
This all begs the question of what can be done with this United squad?
Short answer is: I don’t know.
Long answer: It’s probably going to mean a shakeup in the summer, but a good place to start would be to put Rooney up front. If they are going to play a 4-4-2 it would be best to play him alongside van Persie and allow the freedom to move around up front. Putting someone like Juan Mata at the tip of a diamond with Di Maria and Januzaj on the two sides while Carrick or Blind sit deep would be a quality midfield that can also be rather fluid.
Pushing the full backs forward to overlap the wide midfielders would be the way to provide width. In addition there are still excellent players to bring in as impact substitutes including Falcao, Ander Herrera and James Wilson.
There is still a lack of balance in a set up like this, but they do have so many stars in this team, albeit fading stars in many cases, that room does need to be made to fit them in. The problem right now is that too many are a case of square pegs being shoved into round holes.
I would still rather see United play in more of a 4-2-3-1, but they don’t have a true defensive midfielder and they have an overabundance of forwards that “need” to be played.