“As footballing formations become stretched from three tiers to four, there has been a crossover of players from different departments. Those who occupy the No. 10 position can be divided into two groups: those who are forwards first and foremost,and those who, in attitude and skill set, are essentially midfielders. Rooney falls into the former category, and they tend to be the most prolific. Footballers such as Mesut Ozil, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Toni Kroos and, when he is used there, Yaya Toure are essentially attacking midfielders, likelier to get involved in play and exhibiting a greater affinity with the men behind them.” Richard Jolly from ESPNFC.com
As Richard Jolly said, Rooney is a striker first and foremost but due to his versatility and his overall footballing abilities, is being played in the no.10 role. On the other hand, Kagawa is essentially an attacking midfielders who has better connection with midfield players behind him and has much more involvement in the play. Hence, these are 2 different type of players who will fight for the same position in the team.
Rooney is currently in a rich vein of form, with him looking sharper and fitter. He is providing the spark to United’s attacking play, marauding around the pitch trying to link-up play and penetrate the opposition’s defence. But when Kagawa moved infield from the left to occupy the no.10 role after Rooney had been substituted in the game against Real Sociedad, United looked more assure and fluid in their play, having their best period of the game with Van Persie hitting the post twice (once from the spot) before Fellaini saw red.
When Rooney plays in the no.10 role, he is able to provide the directness and urgency in the attacking phase with his energy, running and overall game play. He is more prolific in front of goal and able to provide more of a goal scoring threat and when in full flown together with Van Persie, it can be deadly, as shown in the game against Fulham.
Whilst Kagawa’s qualities are much more subtle, he has the better understanding of the no.10 role with his intelligent positioning in finding space, offering passing options to his teammates and combining well with the players around him. His contribution to the team might not be as obvious as Rooney’s, but he is able to perform the core functionality of the role better which is to bring others into the play and to control the possession for the team.
Thus, the question here is; should Moyes play the in-form Rooney or Kagawa who has the better understanding of the no.10 role?
In the 3-1 win against Fulham, United played, by far, the best football this season with them scoring 3 goals in quick succession and looked threatening every time they got the ball. In second half, the game swung in the favour of Fulham as they had the majority of the possession with United struggled to string a pass together. As a result, United conceded a goal and failed to add to their 3 first half goals.
In the first half, Fulham naively afforded United the time and space to impose themselves on the match when Southampton and Stoke City had shown the key in giving United a run for their money is to commit players in pressing high up the pitch, especially the midfield duo without giving them much time to pass the ball forward. Fulham adopted these tactics in the second half and scored against a nervy looking United. Fortunately for United, with them having a comfortable 3 goals lead, the game was effectively over as a contest after the first 45 minutes.
This is the underlying problem for United, they are unable to maintain a convincing 90 minute performance, after imposing their will on Arsenal, they allowed the league leaders back into the game in the second half. Unless the tactics being set-up to sit deep in their own half to absorb the pressure and to launch counter-attack when opportunity arise, United will be susceptible to concede goals due to possession is not being kept well enough.
Thus, Moyes needs to solve this weakness fast in order to avoid being exploited by the opposition teams and Kagawa able to solve this problem for United but he needs to be played in the no.10 role. Some might say that he is able to come infield from the left but clearly, this has restricted the kind of influence on the team that he is capable of exerting. As mentioned earlier, Kagawa has the knowledge and his qualities to perform the functionality of this role, able to provide the balance between possession & penetration. Sometimes United are guilty of playing too directly and there is too much urgency in it which resulted the possession being lost too often. In selected moments of games, keeping possession and building up the play patiently might be the better options as to keep the opposition out of the game, as the saying goes, “you can’t score without the ball”.
So Moyes faces the dilemma, does he sacrifice the inform Rooney to improve the whole team? With Van Persie as the first choice no.9 for United, Rooney’s role in the team needs to be redefined and perhaps a wide forward role might be the best option for him as illustrated below.
In this line-up, Rooney will be playing high-up the pitch on the left coming inside much like the role Ronaldo plays for Real Madrid. It offers better balance of distribution of players in the whole area of the pitch and in this position, Rooney is still able to utilise his goal scoring threat by running infield behind the opposition’s defenders and at the same time, with his long ball precision, he can cut inside in deeper areas to provide the accurate diagonal ball to the right channel or the players in front.
With Kagawa forming the triangle with the midfield duo, they can keep the possession better, subsequently, there will be more continuity in the transition play from the back to front as this will avoid being outnumbered by the opposition midfielders. In term of defensive duty on the left hand side, it has to be alternate between Rooney and Kagawa, whoever is in better position to get back, then he has to cover the defensive spot.
Furthermore, this set-up is to avoid both of them occupying the same areas on the pitch especially when Rooney has dropped deep and Kagawa has moved infield as it will cause the central area to be too crowded, narrowing the play.
In the earlier games, this has been experimented by Moyes by using Welbeck and Giggs in this arrangement with Welbeck staying left higher up the pitch and Giggs playing behind Van Persie, with both them alternating the defensive duty on the left hand side. This could be a tactic we employ in the big games, where it is important for United to be able to match teams in the middle of the pitch in order to avoid to being play off the park as in the 4-1 defeat against City.
Currently Moyes is shoehorning the two into the team but to the detriment of one, could this be a way to get quality performances from both?