The real effect of Rooney’s midfield move on Man Utd

Following Man Utd’s 6-1 thumping at the hands of their ‘noisy neighbours,’ Wayne Rooney has been repositioned to a deeper midfield role and United are yet to concede a goal. Good news? Well, Man Utd have only scored twice and are still allowing plenty of shots at their goal. So is Rooney’s reposition actually a knee jerk reaction that is hindering both his play and that of his team?

Rooney and the Red Devils are rampant to begin the season

Prior to the match against Man City, the Red Devils and Wayne Rooney were playing some scintillating attacking football. After being humbled by Barcelona in the Champions League Final, it seemed as if Fergie had set his team out to emulate the boys from the Nou Camp. Spurs were squashed 3-0, Arsenal were swept aside 8-2, Bolton were battered 5-0 and Chelsea were crushed 3-1, as Fergie’s new look team were beating all before them.

After his worst season in a Man Utd shirt, Rooney had declared he would get up to the ‘Messi standard’ and began the campaign just like the Argentinean ace. Nine goals flew in from Roo’s boot and he set up two others in United’s first seven games.

Then came the game against Man City, followed by Rooney’s reposition. The team has won twice, kept two clean sheets, but United’s deadliest weapon seems to have been covered up in the centre of the park, making them ineffective going forward, but still open at the back.

Wayne Rooney before and after his midfield move

Wayne Rooney was on fire to start the season, but since his move to the middle of the park, his presence on the field in Premier League matches has been nullified:

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As Striker

As Midfielder







Passing Accuracy






Shots on Target






Key Passes



Rooney is getting more touches of the ball in midfield, but is actually doing less with it. When he started as a striker, he was attempting 63 passes per game, making 81% of them and creating 2 goal-scoring opportunity key passes per match. Since his move to a deeper role, he is only making 2 additional successful passes a game, but no key passes to create chances, nullifying his creativity.

Moving to a deeper role has also naturally hurt his shooting. Starting as a striker, Wayne Rooney was taking 4 shots per match, hitting the target with 2.3 of them and scoring 1.1 goals per game. After being repositioned, he is only taking 1.5 shots per match, hitting the target with 1 and is yet to score.

That’s no goals, no assists and no key passes since he has been moved in to a deeper role.

If we look at his heat maps from the home games with Chelsea where he stated up front, and Sunderland where he started in midfield, we can see how he is not working in his most productive areas:

Against Chelsea (left heat map), Wayne Rooney did the majority of his work on the edge of the Blues box (28%), but he also likes to drift out on to the left wing where he can play give-and-go passes with Ashley Young (20%), then move in to the box for a return.

Against Sunderland (right heat map), the majority of Rooney’s work is being done in and around the centre circle (24%), with him venturing forward but staying central – only 22% of his work was done on the edge of the Sunderland box. That left side wing area he likes to go and play one-twos? When Rooney ventured out to the left, it was in his-own half, where he is has little or no effect.

Moving Rooney in to the midfield and the effect overall on the Man Utd team

We’ve looked at Wayne Rooney’s personal performance since moving in to midfield, but no player is greater than the team. So has moving him in to midfield had a beneficial effect on Man Utd overall?

Per Match

Before Moving Wayne Rooney

After moving Wayne Rooney

Man Utd shots on goal



Man Utd shots on target



Opponent’s shots on goal



Opponent’s shots on target



Man Utd goals scored



Opponent’s goals scored



Prior to moving Wayne Rooney in to midfield, Man Utd were taking slightly more shots than their opponents (19.9 to 19). Since his move, they have been out-shot by 10.5 to 14 in favour of their opponents. Man Utd are taking almost half the shots at goal they previously were, but the number of shots they are conceding has only declined by a quarter.

There is also a greater disproportion in the number of shots on target Man Utd are taking to the number they are conceding. Before moving Wayne Rooney to midfield, Man Utd were hitting the target with almost 8 shots per game, whilst their opponents hit the target with 6 strikes – a plus 2 margin in favour of the Red Devils.

Since moving Rooney deeper, Man Utd are now only hitting the target with 5 shots per game, whilst allowing 4.5 on their own net – now only a plus 0.5 margin in United’s favour.

Man Utd are now not only taking less shots and hitting the target with less, but there is also a smaller differential between how many shots they and their opponents take. This will result in closer games where they could end up losing against better teams with more accurate strikers.

The unbalancing effect of repositioning Rooney

Apart from allowing Arsenal to score twice in the 8-2 rout of the Gunners, the most goals Man Utd had conceded in any game was one. Fergie’s reaction to Man Utd getting stuffed by Man City was to jam the midfield and stifle their opponents’ play.

If we look at each player’s average position on the field, again in the matches against Sunderland and Chelsea, moving Rooney in to midfield looks to have had an unbalancing effect on the team.

Against Chelsea, the average position for each starter during the match is well balanced with Wayne Rooney (10) up top and Javier Hernandez (14) in behind him. Nani (17) and Ashley Young (18) are both pushing on down the flanks, with Tom Cleverley (24) and Anderson (8) dropping in to provide cover.

Average starting player's positions against Chelsea

Against Sunderland (below) the average positions throughout 90 minutes for the starters seems to have condensed in to the centre of the park, with the forwards sucked in to make a v-formation. This makes it difficult for United to get up the pitch and attack as they are starting from deeper and their players are closer together. With Wayne Rooney (10) in the centre circle, so close to Ji-Sung Park (13) and Danny Wellbeck (19), his only real out ball is to Nani (17) or Hernandez (14). Compacting the midfield is slowing down opponents, but is also stifling United getting forward.

Average starting player's positions against Sunderland

It’s only been two games, so we’ll have to see if Sir Alex continues with this strategy, but already, Man Utd are being out shot by their opponents, which was what this move was supposed to solve.

The real effect of Man Utd repositioning Wayne Rooney

The effect of Wayne Rooney, arguably Man Utd’s most potent weapon, has been nullified right when he was in blistering form and forcing defences to plan how to stop him. Now with Rooney sat deeper, teams have had to worry less about his positioning and can push up the field themselves. Wayne Rooney is at his best when playing up front, attacking the opposition’s 18-yard box, rather than picking the ball up in deeper positions. He had 9 goals, 2 assists and 16-chance creating passes in the Premier League prior to moving him deeper. Since then, he has 0 goals, 0 assists and 0 key passes in the Premiership.

Man Utd have had two clean sheets in the Premier League since moving Wayne Rooney to midfield. However, now their shots per game are down by half  and their opponents’ shots are only down by a quarter, so they are being out-shot in games. Better quality opposition will take advantage of this.

The effect of moving Wayne Rooney is being felt at the attacking end of the pitch, but gaining little at the defensive end and unbalancing the team.

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3 thoughts on “The real effect of Rooney’s midfield move on Man Utd

  1. For all the stats trundled out to try and make some kind of coherent argument, one can really ignore the whole pile based on an opening which stated that United had been in scintillating form prior to the humbling by City. Crap. United did start off the season with an uncharacteristic bang, but really started tapering off into the droll football of recent seasons once the Chelsea game was out of the way – that means a number of games in which United clearly showed that the wheels had fallen off their ‘Barcelona-style’ start to the season, which was clearly a false dawn that fooled many pundits into waxing rhapsodic about United’s level of play and the supposed fact that Fergie had pulled off another master stroke under every one’s gaze by putting together a youthful team to rival the heady days of the Fledglings. The reality check was always just round the corner, and I fully expected the loss to City – though not to the extent the final scoreline showed. Since then United have continued to display the tedious level of play so reminiscent of recent seasons, and the same issues are as ever present – that the team needs creativity and drive through the engine room. Placing Rooney there offers no help – a good midfielder needs touch, skill, football smarts, situational awareness and vision, and an innate ability to find space and time on the ball at need. Rooney possesses NONE of these qualities and further, is a liability in the area due to his flawed temperament.

    1. Thanks for your comment Timbo. Man Utd were undefeated going in to the City match, having scored 25 times and only conceded 5 goals, maybe not Barcelona but still pretty good. What they had given up were plenty of shots at goal, I know you don’t like stats, but almost 20 a game, which meant that sooner or later a quality opposition would cash in. Moving Rooney in to a midfield five was supposed to reduce this, and it has to an extent, but it has also hindered Man Utd, making them display what you refer to as the tedious level of play in recent seasons.

      I do think that last season’s title winning team was one of Fergie’s weakest in his time in charge, but they still won the crown over Chelsea, Arsenal, Man City and Liverpool so they were doing something right.

      I agree with you that placing Rooney in midfield offers no help as i believe that you should play your best players in their most natural positions and give the opposition more problems to worry about. Man Utd should have pursued the Sneijder move harder, or brought in the likes of a Schweinsteiger to bolster their midfield, as right now central midfield is the weakest area of the team. January will be an interesting month.

  2. rooney best position is up front, because He was born to strick, to score goal. Thus, he can play in the midfied up front as attacking midfieder not defencive midfielder.

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