There have been many theories thrown around trying to explain why at the critical moment Wayne Rooney has become as effective as a Sven Goran Eriksson team talk. Some have pointed to his fitness, others have cited the system, and the rest jump to the conclusion that he only performs for his club. There may, however, be a slightly more obvious reason: service.
For his club, Wayne Rooney is often bookended by two wingers who can cut inside or reach the byline to play a pass or cross. For England, however, this isn’t the case. Steven Gerrard and James Milner sit much deeper than a traditional winger and certainly have much more trouble beating a man with pace or trickery than Manchester United’s Nani or Antonio Valencia.
Wayne Rooney’s revelatory heading ability was a vital part in his goal scoring form last season and it was unquestionably aided by Antonio Valencia’s remarkable crossing accuracy from the byline. The striker thrived on such service.
For England at the moment, of course, it’s another story.
Admittedly, Steven Gerrard is, almost without question, one of the finest passers of the ball in the Premier League. James Milner too has shown an eye for a pass in his marvelous season for Aston Villa. But, neither Milner nor Gerrard have the attributes or the qualities demanded of a winger: sticking Gerrard on the left has never brought out his best, even in a Liverpool shirt and Milner has even yet establish himself as a capable player at international level in his standard midfield position. Against Germany, they sat too deep to get the best out of Rooney and didn’t surge forward in support when required.
The lack of support is another problem. Aside from the crosses he thrived on during last seasons Premier League, Rooney also received support in the penalty area from his other teammates. Nani and Ryan Giggs’ were just as comfortable coming inside as they were making their way to the byline. The periodical inclusion of Berbatov, meanwhile, added another dimension to Manchester United’s attack. The Bulgarian’s technical flair and ability to hold up the ball gave the opportunity for central midfielder’s like Darren Fletcher and Paul Scholes to become involved in the play in and around the area.
As for England, support from deep was clearly lacking. Frank Lampard tried to get forward when he could but had to drop from his advanced position back alongside Gareth Barry once England had lost possession.
Jermaine Defoe could’ve been more involved if he had dropped deep from time to time to link up play or just drifted around the final third to create space for Rooney. Unfortunately, he often found himself in a similar position with England’s number 10.
The game against Germany saw all these issues that had threatened England’s progression from the group stages come to the fore. Against Germany, England rarely got to the byline; their lack of width only meant only several decent crosses were made from deep; none of the midfielders ever ventured into the box in search of the forward – Gerrard and Lampard simply shot from distance; and no one could hold the ball up in advanced areas.
Now, you’re probably thinking that that’s all well and good, but Rooney should nevertheless drop deep to link up with Gerrard and his other midfielder’s right? Well, no. Fabio Capello appears to have given Rooney instruction to stay in his position. Normally, the Manchester United st
riker will cover every blade of grass to get the ball and build up the attack. This has been notably absent from the World Cup campaign.
We’ve been assured there are no injury problems and there has been no wincing or overly concerned physio’s to contest otherwise, so Rooney’s limitation to his forward position must have sourced from the manager.
Although, having Rooney shackled to a forward position should does conserve his energy, if the service isn’t of any admirable quality, the result is inevitably the frustrated man we saw helplessly trudge the field against Germany on Sunday.
During his time at the World Cup finals, Wayne Rooney lost the ball more than any other player. That statistic cannot simply be attributed to bad form. Even if his club form has deserted him, the poor service from deep areas and lack of decent support shouldn’t be overlooked.
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