Wayne Rooney

2 02 2010

The fact that so much of the attention after the Arsenal game was on Nani’s performance, in many ways, is a reflection on Rooney’s performances this season. Rooney was undeniably great in that game, but that’s not news anymore. Time and time again Rooney provides top drawer performances, so much so that it seems at times that we have become desensitized to his brilliance.

But with the World Cup looming, people have started to look at Rooney’s form with the big picture in mind. There’s the obvious question of whether Rooney can maintain his current level of play, which he will almost certainly have to if England are to have any chance of challenging for football’s biggest prize, but some have even been led to wonder if United’s dependance on Rooney, who has filled the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure admirably, will mean he gets overplayed, at the national side’s expense. In fact, with 34 starts in 35 games in all competition since August, including 23 of 23 in the Premier League, Rooney could be looking at a long and tiring season.

For now it remains to be seen how many minutes Rooney will log before the domestic season draws to a close, although England fans must surely be hoping for Owen to return swiftly to form if only to spare Rooney’s legs. His current level of form, on the other hand, is easier to examine. The most obvious feature when looking at his stats this year is his consistency. Fantastic news for England fans, Wayne Rooney has been performing at a ridiculously high level all year. How else could he have surpassed the total set by last season’s leading scorer by the end of January?

The chart below shows Rooney’s per game averages in shots, shots on target and goals for each month of the season so far. It shows us three things worth considering.

  1. Rooney has netted in every single calendar month so far. In fact the longest he has gone without a goal is three games across September and October. By contrast he had scored in 4 consecutive games prior to that, his longest such sequence of the season. Although he is currently on a 3-game run worth 6 goals.
  2. There are no worrying anomalies on the graph. Although there is a slight dip in production in October, it is not significant, and the exceptionally high standard set in August simply exaggerates it. Even during a relatively ‘off’ spell, Rooney’s production was more than respectable.
  3. He is excellent at taking the chances that come his way. A sudden drop in shots attempted in November, a full 2 per game less than in October, coincided with a modest upturn in shots on target and a marked increase in goals. In other words, regardless of what is going on around him, Rooney is superb at making sure he keeps the goals coming.

A chart showing Rooney's shots, shots on target and goal per game averages, broken down by month.

So while the shots attempted tend to fluctuate wildly, the shots on target and goals don’t necessarily follow, resulting in a fairly consistent output. But perhaps the best news for United fans, and potentially England fans to, is that in the last couple of months the stats are all trending upwards. So at nearly 7 shots a game, more than 2 hitting the target and a sublime 1.5 goals over January and with trends pointing upwards we have to wonder what Rooney’s limit is and if he might not just maintain this form, but exceed it in the coming months.

If he can continue to produce like this for the rest of the season, not only will he give England fans some real hope come summertime, but he will be on pace to pass the 30 goal target set by his manager. With 20 goals in 23 games, Rooney is currently on track to net 33 goals in the league this year. Should he achieve it, it would be the highest Premier League tally since 1995, leaving him just a goal shy of the all-time Premier League league record of 34 goals set by Andrew Cole in the 93/94 season and matched by Alan Shearer the next year.

Manchester United have won the Premier League in each of the three seasons when one of their players topped the scoring chart.

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Man U v Arsenal

31 01 2010

Although perhaps not the most popular player at the club, Nani played a central role in United’s victory over Arsenal. Constantly at the heart of attacking moves, Nani gave Gael Clichy trouble throughout. His inclusion in the starting eleven prompted a fair number of questions, but not only did Nani give his doubters something to think about, he showed Ferguson saw something most of us didn’t.

On the one hand you could argue that one good game on it’s own doesn’t have much value. Which, to be fair, is true. By that same argument it could be said the Ferguson got a little lucky that his decision to start Valencia on the bench paid off. But that doesn’t take into account how Manchester United approached the game.

According to ESPN’s Soccernet, United played 49% of their attacking football down the right flank. In addition, a look at the average position of the United players throughout the match show that there was continuous and intentional overloading of that side of the pitch. The image below is a screenshot of Soccernet’s Average Player Position tool, which for some reason flips the image, showing Nani and Rafael working on the left. I could have flipped it back manually, but then the numbers would have been backwards.

You can see Nani (17) occupying a very attacking position, high up on the right side of the pitch, leaving space for Fletcher (24) to slide over, knowing he was well covered by Carrick and Scholes in the centre. In addition you can see Rafael (21) positioning himself as more of a midfielder than a defencder, occupying a space on the right roughly in line with Carrick. Between the three of them they leave the Arsenal defence either outnumbered or dragged out of position.

Nani, Fletcher and Rafael causing trouble for Arsenal on the right wing. Unfortunately the diagram doesn't know left from right...

By contrast, you can see no such arrangement on the left. There is no obvious left winger according to the diagram, with Park (13) staying relatively central and just over the halfway line and Rooney (10) only marginally left of centre. This leaves Evra (3) as the widest player on the left flank, ready to overlap should the situation warrant it, but the focus of the United attack is clearly on the right.

Evidently it worked, and impressively at that. They managed to embarrass this Arsenal side and cause Clichy no end of trouble. Nani may have played wonderfully today, but it was in a system designed to allow him to shine. Taking nothing away from his performance, and of course Rooney’s though that seems to go without saying at the moment, Ferguson deserves a good deal of credit for the way he sent out his team tonight.