ROONEY DILEMMA CONTINUES
Wayne Rooney has scored just four times in his last 22 appearances for Manchester United in the Premier League.
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He is their captain, talisman and should be their biggest goal threat. However, Rooney has come under plenty of criticism in the opening three weekends of the new PL season and after hitting back at critics last week, he put in another lackluster display against Newcastle United during his team’s 0-0 draw at Old Trafford on Saturday.
The big question remains: how can Louis van Gaal get the best out of Rooney?
As the stat above suggests, Rooney has been out of form in front of goal for a while and it seems to be playing on his mind. When he scored for United after five minutes against Newcastle but was flagged offside, despite replays proving he was level with the last defender when the ball was played, that summed up the way things have been going for him. You could argue that he is putting the team first and doing whatever he can to make sure they win, over personal glory, but after spending spells in midfield last season and then up top in the lone forward role this year, Rooney looks a shadow of his former self. Knowing him, the 29-year-old will come back and score a hat trick in United’s next PL game against Swansea on Sunday, as he always seems to answer his critics during a rough spell. But there is perhaps a simple answer as to how Rooney can snap out of this funk.
He is, and always has been, a maverick. A player who cannot be shackled down in one position and prefers to float around and help knit the attack and midfield together. Rooney’s best trait is finding space in and around the box and driving at defenders. Under van Gaal’s strict formations and belief in a team-first ethic, Rooney has struggled to find those gaps and especially when playing as the lone forward, he does not have license to drop deep and get involved but has to stay high and can be marked easily.
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You could argue that Memphis Depay, Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj have yet to deliver chances for Rooney to finish, but I’d argue that Rooney is being played out of position. True, there was a huge outcry of disbelief when Rooney was played in central midfield by van Gaal last season, but playing him in-between midfield and attack is the perfect position. If you look at his best season’s for United, he has played as a second-striker behind the likes of Robin van Persie, Ruud van Nistelrooy and even Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez. He has also been in tandem with Cristiano Ronaldo, and the point I’m trying to make is that he’s always had a partner in crime. He doesn’t have that at United anymore. Not yet, anyway.
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Van Gaal should sacrifice one of Depay, Januzaj or Mata and play Rooney as the central attacking midfielder in his 4-2-3-1 formation. Starting either Depay or Hernandez up top for Rooney to run off and link up with could help him snap out of his funk. At the very least it may open up space for others to score, as United have looked solid at the back with three clean sheets from their opening three games, but Januzaj’s deflected effort against Aston Villa is the only goal they have scored on their own as Kyle Walker’s own goal on the opening day handed them the win over Tottenham.
For spells against Newcastle they looked better going forward, but Rooney was snatching at shots and struggled before being subbed out in the second half. United look a lot better defensively this season, but if they want to challenge for the title, they must figure out how to get the best out of their star man.
GRITTY CHELSEA REIGNITED BY PEDRO
Overcoming adversity is a major trait of a championship winning team and on Sunday’s showing, Chelsea will be right up there once again to defend their title.
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Thibaut Courtois saved James Morrison’s first half penalty kick when it was 0-0, then the Blues raced into a 3-1 lead at half time thanks to the arrival of their new Spanish winger. Pedro Rodriguez, 28, stunned everyone by picking Chelsea over Manchester United at the last minute and the former Barcelona star scored the opener and set up Diego Costa for the second to slot right into life in the PL. His $34 million arrival at Stamford Bridge seemed to give Chelsea’s players a lift, especially going forward in the first half. For Cesar Azpilicueta’s goal, the left back scored Chelsea’s third, look at the stat below on the passing movement which set him up. That’s more like the Chelsea we saw early last season.
Sometimes it only takes one player to reignite an offense, and Pedro’s arrival could well get the best out of Costa, Eden Hazard and even Cesc Fabregas, as an attacking unit. Chelsea actually started more Spanish internationals (Costa, Fabregas, Azpilicueta, Pedro) than Real Madrid last weekend and that familiarity with his national team teammates could help Pedro slot in seamlessly this season. With John Terry getting sent off in the second half and Chelsea conceding soon after to make it 3-2, they had to hang on with 10-men for over 30 minutes. But they did, and Jose Mourinho’s side showed they could fight back after extreme criticism to grab their first win of the season after a difficult last 10 days on and off the pitch.
DRAMATIC DRAWS AND WATER BREAKS
It was a weekend full of tense, tight action in the PL as six draws took place in the 10 games. On Saturday sweltering temperatures in England (that’s 86 degrees) saw water breaks take place in most PL games. This was met by much derision from fans, especially in the United States of America, but in fairness the recorded temps were over 85 degrees in the shade in most places and with the sun beating down and huge stadiums packed, the actual temperatures had to be closer to 100 Fahrenheit. Still, this guy wasn’t impressed…
Drinks breaks in both halves of the Saturday games not only helped the players to cool down but also set up dramatic finishes, with Leicester first conceding to Spurs in the 80th minute (19-year-old Dele Alli scored his first-ever PL goal) but then Riyad Mahrez scored a screamer a minute later to tie it up and keep the Foxes unbeaten. Other draws caught the eye with Sunderland pegging back Swansea in the second half at the Stadium of Light — Jermain Defoe canceled out Bafetimbi Gomis’ strike in eerily similar fashion — while Norwich fought back to tie Stoke at home. But the result of the day on Saturday was Bournemouth’s sensational 4-3 win away at West Ham United, their first victory, points and goals in the PL.
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Callum Wilson scored a hat trick for the Cherries who raced into a 2-0 lead but were pegged back to 2-2 just after half time. Bournemouth then raced into a 4-2 lead and the Hammers had Carl Jenkinson sent off, but despite conceding another late on, Eddie Howe’s side celebrated at the final whistle in the “blistering” heat in London.
As an Englishman who lives in London, I can tell you 86 degrees and sunshine is very, very rare, plus very, very hot for anybody who is used to the weather in England. Honestly.
USMNT UPDATE: BAD WEEKEND FOR AMERICANS ABROAD
It was not the best weekend for the Americans Abroad as only one player avoided defeat. Geoff Cameron played the full 90 minutes at center back for Stoke City for the third-straight game but the Potters gave up an early lead to draw at Norwich City, 1-1. The two USMNT goalkeepers in action both tasted defeat, with Tim Howard’s Everton losing 2-0 at home to Manchester City and Brad Guzan’s Aston Villa losing 2-1 at Crystal Palace.
Howard will be disappointed at Aleksandar Kolarov firing home from a tight angle at his near post for City’s first, but he could do nothing about Samir Nasri’s delicate chip for the second and made some great stops to deny the Citizens on multiple occasions. As for Guzan, he got close to keeping out Bakary Sako’s curler but Villa has now lost two-straight since winning on the opening day.
Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.