Belfast Telegraph

Mourinho must send Rooney to the bench to get Manchester United back on course


By Jack Pitt-Brooke

When Jose Mourinho arrived at Manchester United he made a promise, a promise that made perfect sense to anyone who watched Wayne Rooney over the previous few months, not least at Euro 2016.

"For me, Wayne will be a No 9 or a No 10, or a number nine-and-a-half," Mourinho said. "But with me he will never be a No 6, not even a No 8."

Seven games later, when United went to Watford on Sunday, Rooney was back in midfield.

It was a startling compromise from a manager who sees himself as such a strong personality. It was not quite the same admission of weakness as when Sam Allardyce said that Rooney could play wherever he wanted for England, but the result was the same.

Rooney was dismal at Vicarage Road on Sunday - United's third successive defeat ahead of a League Cup tie at Northampton tomorrow and a home clash with champions Leicester on Saturday - playing alongside Paul Pogba in a midfield three.

Watford were too busy for him and his touch and passing were shown up again.

Rooney was completely unable to set the tempo of the game, create chances, make space for others, and threaten goal himself. In short, everything you would expect from an attacking midfielder in one of the Premier League's biggest sides.

Since taking over at United, Mourinho has discussed a plan to slowly phase Rooney out over the course of the season, as he did with Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole when returning to Chelsea in 2013-14. That makes political sense. But his team needs Mourinho to act now.

United have the most expensive footballer of all time in Pogba and yet he is being constrained by a team set up to accommodate Rooney.

United should be a platform for Pogba's unique range of skills and yet he is the one having to do the dirty work for a lesser player.

With no Rooney in the side, Mourinho could introduce a genuine midfielder instead, Michael Carrick or Ander Herrera, and the team would be far better for it. The struggle to create chances from open play would surely improve.

It was clear from day one, the 3-1 win at Bournemouth, that playing Pogba, Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic together was unsustainable.

Pogba needs space in midfield, and if Ibrahimovic needs a partner then it is Marcus Rashford, who is quick, rather than Rooney who is not.

Rooney makes this team worse, not better. Mourinho has tried him up front and tried him in midfield. He should try him on the bench.

Belfast Telegraph


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