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“For me, he will be a No 9 or a No 10, or a number nine-and-a-half, but with me he will never be a No 6, not even a No 8.”
Nine and a half…Perhaps Jose Mourinho has found the exact position Rooney plays in.
The problem is, it isn’t a real position. It’s been years since Rooney has been a number 9.
When you think of goals Rooney does not come to mind. In fact these days, you think of misplaced passes, a loose first touch and failed dribbles.
This isn’t the man destined to bring glory back to England.
Currently with three wins out of three, things are looking very good for Mourinho’s men and the performances have just been solid if not perfect, but watching the way United play there has been one nagging issue…Zlatan and Rooney’s partnership.
Rooney has been dealt a lot of criticism in recent years sometimes justly and sometimes not but even with such a bright start, the newly invigorated Red Devils’ questions have already been asked about Rooney with Mourinho having to say that he will bench his captain if he doesn’t perform – admitting that the man started very slowly in the game vs Hull over the weekend.
Not exactly what you would expect to be saying about your captain who showed great skill to create a 92nd minute winner.
Zlatan on the other hand has scored 3 in 3 already, including a 25 yard screamer and a towering header against one of the Premier League’s most solid centre backs.
He hasn’t exactly set every match alight but he is winning matches regardless as world class players do. Watching Zlatan it is clear what is stopping him from playing at his very best…Rooney.
As much as Zlatan is known for his goals, he isn’t an out and out striker in the traditional sense.
He likes to drop off; he holds the ball up well and use his strength to bring players into the game. Almost finding himself in the ‘nine and a half’ position.
This has resulted in the men Jose is probably relying on stepping on each other’s toes.
To get the best out of Zlatan you need to set up with players moving beyond him.
Let him be the focal point so he can create chances and get himself in the right position. This is how he set up with PSG.
It would have been madness having Cavani behind Zlatan or you would have the same problem he is having now, they would have been filling the same space.
The one time Rooney really got in behind Zlatan, he expertly found him in the box but this is happening far too rarely and with lack of pace on the wings with Martial preferring to have the ball at his feet, he is spending too much time with his back to goal.
The Mata factor
Now there is an argument for Mata being the problem due to a lack of pace. The difference between Mata and Rooney however is his intelligence to fill the right spaces.
More naturally a number 8 or even a number 10 than a right winger, when Zlatan drops off he instantly fills the space in behind. This results in the defence having to stay deep and not allowing them to swarm Zlatan.
The problem with this is that it leaves a void on the right hand side. Rooney is the one who needs to fill that space.
Pogba will come forward so Zlatan will always have the option if he needs to play backwards. He doesn’t want to play 3 yards passes with Rooney.
It favours neither of them.
A change may be imminent
With Mkhitaryan and Rashford looking dangerous every time they make an appearance, you cannot help but feel a change is imminent especially if the results stop masking the problems on the pitch.
History tells us that Mata will be the player to make way, but how long will it be before Rooney’s ‘slow starts’ start costing Manchester United points?
Mourinho will not stand for it and it will not be a surprise to see him on the bench, either with Mkhitaryan through the middle or Mata taking up his favourite position and the former playing out wide.
Future hanging in the balance
It will be an interesting season but Rooney needs to adapt and fast or his United future, and maybe even his England future, may end up being that of a spectator.
Written by Josh French
Follow Josh on Twitter @MufcJ
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