Process Without Progress

By Adam Joseph

Where to begin?

Three hundred and twenty five minutes without a single goal now for Manchester United. Droughts cause panic. That panic is now fully underway within the Red Devil fanbase, as United fans worry that the problems all-encompassing the squad will not go away anytime soon.

Another drab performance on the weekend yielded yet another 0-0 draw for United, struggling to hold on for a point against high flying Crystal Palace. The Manchester giants seem to have sorted their defensive deficiencies for the most part, but now cannot even put a single goal on the scoreboard.

Fixtures for a while have mostly been boring affairs, and the Palace game might have been the worst yet. It’s even fair to say it was the worst game of football United have played since the 62 cross farce that was the Fulham fixture during David Moyes reign. It was truly that woeful.

Many will engage in hyperbole throughout this process (as Louis Van Gaal would like to call it) but it is now more than fair to question what exactly is happening at the club. A team boasting the likes of Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, Ander Herrera, Memphis and Wayne Rooney have created the least chances in the entire Premier League. How does that happen?

It’s not as if there isn’t enough of the ball. United are dominating possession week in, week out but to no avail. Possession is wonderful and allows a team to control games but that’s provided you make use of it effectively. At present, United are certainly not doing that. Safety is always winning over adventure.

The quality is there. So where are the goals? Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger are dominating the midfield in most contests and the defence provide the rest of the base for the team to dominate. So what’s happening?

There’s the issue. It really is so hard to pin point. Does the rigid system limit the players too much in an attacking sense? Possibly. The 4-2-3-1 provides such a strong defensive base with 2 defensive midfielders and David De Gea patrolling between the sticks. Against weaker sides though, do you need 2 defensive midfielders, particularly at home? Does that provide enough support to the attack?

Questions now though, need to seriously be asked about Wayne Rooney. The Club Captain, earning £300,000 per week has scored one goal in the Premier League this season. That goal by the way ricocheted off his knee and he fell into the net with it. That’s not exactly a goal for the highlight reel.

Rooney’s defendants point to his hattrick against Club Brugge in United’s Champions League qualifiers or his classy finish against Ipswich in the Capitol One Cup. The reality is it’s now November and he’s scored 5 goals in all competitions. These goals were against Championship team Ipswich, Championship bound Sunderland and an injury riddled Club Brugge who would struggle to survive in the modern Premier League climate.

That’s where we are at now with Rooney. But how do you handle such a player? Is it that simple to drop him? A very popular player among the squad, some claim the unrest dropping him would cause wouldn’t be worth it off the pitch. But can it cause any more damage than it’s causing on the field at present?

A tactical example of Rooney’s issues at the minute is his tendency to drop deep for the ball. Whilst handy, there are already 3 midfielders who do that (Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger and Herrera currently) who are superior ball users from those deep lying positions.

As a result of doing that, it leaves no man to push up on the last defender and make the opposing back four work hard defensively. It allows them to more easily defend United tactically. Anthony Martial has had a lot of success running in behind defenders when playing up front, but he has been shunted out to the left side to accommodate Rooney’s ongoing selection.

Whilst Martial has been brilliant in his displays on the left, United’s lack of depth in the frontline means he’s required there rather than on the left. Palace game planned him out of the game on the weekend and teams will have picked up on that. Quite simply, he’s United’s best striker now even at such a tender age.

There’s no doubt Rooney is not the only issue in the current United set up. United are amidst a long overdue rebuild and there will always be something to work on with areas of the squad. Particularly within a squad arguably that is on the thin side. But Rooney is currently holding back the team’s true potential in attack. He holds up counters, is not scoring and not creating chances. How can that continue to be justified?

A set up of Mata, Herrera and Memphis behind Martial is tantalising. If United were to switch to a 4-3-3 that worked so well last season, Herrera would join the Schmidfield in the middle three. This would leave Memphis and Mata to flank Martial. That is so exciting to think about for United fans. But Rooney stands in the way of that.

He’s the Club Captain and will go down a great of the club when he leaves Old Trafford in the future, there’s no doubting that. Nor is that part of this debate. His attempts to twice leave the club should not be forgotten, but his decline is something that is statistically supported over time. Every key statistical area including goals, chances created, key passes and take ons have decreased significantly over the last few seasons.

Rooney started playing football at a young age and is currently playing his 13th season of Premier League football. That’s a lot of mileage on a 30 year old’s legs. It should also not be ignored in that context that the England man has had his share of injury troubles over the years and has always had a reputation of someone whose not taken his own conditioning very seriously. These things add up over the years.

With every botched free kick, every simple missed pass or horrible first touch ask yourself if that is worth £300,000 per week? It’s no coincidence that his reinstatement as the main striker has resulted in United scoring no goals in the last 4 games.

When Rooney signed that new contract under David Moyes after so much the club’s fans people were relieved. Now? It’s an albatross that could haunt Manchester United. With close to £57 million still to be paid, it’s fair to say it’s already doing exactly that.

Adam Joseph is a freelance writer from Melbourne, Australia. Manchester United fan from back when they were the only team on Australian TV and it was love at first sight. Manchester United, Oklahoma City Thunder, New England Patriots and Carlton Blues fanatic. If it’s sport related, I’ll talk about it.

Follow him on twitter @adamjoseph_27

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