Thursday 26 November 2015 12:41, UK
Wayne Rooney’s form has been questioned by Roy Keane but is he right? We look at the numbers…
It was the line about WWE wrestling that took the headlines and Paul Merson isn't the only one who will feel that was a cheap shot. Wayne Rooney was there with his family and most regarded it as good-natured fun. But the former Manchester United captain's assessment of the current Manchester United captain's form is rather more pertinent.
"He needs to step up to the plate," said Roy Keane. "I think he's got to do a lot more. If you're not at it yourself you've got to have a look and lead by example. He didn't do that tonight. He doesn't look sharp, he looks awful. Mentally he doesn't look really sharp; physically he doesn't look in great shape. He needs to have a look at himself."
The numbers don't offer much of a defence for Rooney. There was the hat-trick against Club Brugge in the Champions League play-off but just one goal has followed in the subsequent group stage. He has two Premier League goals in 11 appearances this season. Some forwards offer far more than mere goals, but with Rooney right now, that's not obvious.
Paul Merson says Roy Keane's criticism of Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney is a 'cheap shot'.
There are 134 players who have provided a Premier League assist so far this season. Rooney is not among them. He's directly contributed to half the number of goals as Ander Herrera in almost twice the time on the pitch. According to Opta, Rooney has created only one clear-cut chance this season - the same number as each and every member of Manchester United's back four.
It's this comparison with team-mates that does for Rooney. Much of the focus right now is on Louis van Gaal's style of play and it may be that talent is being stifled by an overly regimented approach in the final third. But that doesn't explain why the captain has been less effective than those around him or why Juan Mata should sit on the bench while Rooney toils.
Mata has been among United's more effective players this season and has appeared energised by the youth and pace of others. In contrast, it's only accentuated the skipper's sluggishness. Although there are those convinced that Rooney is suited to the No 10 role, he is not picking out the passes and receiving the ball in tight areas continues to appear a source of discomfort.
Robbed of his pace and struggling to adapt to the role of knitting the play from deep, there is the worrying possibility that the one man granted 'special privileges' by Van Gaal also happens to the one man particularly ill-suited to playing in a Van Gaal team. For Steve Round, who coached Rooney at United, it's this blend that's the problem.
"He's not playing as well as he can do," Round told Sky Sports. "But as a centre-forward, you want the ball as early as you can - first pass in to me so I've got the time and space - because on the transition, the opposition are out of position and you can take advantage of that. It seems to be a little bit slow at times for him."
Van Gaal's style of play in too slow for Rooney and Rooney's style of play is too slow for Van Gaal. United have won the two Premier League games that the captain has missed so far this season but on Saturday against Leicester - a Leicester playing with speed and conviction - he can expect to be restored to the line-up. Whether he can expect to change Keane's opinion of him is another matter.
Leicester v Man Utd is live on Sky Sports 1 HD from 5pm on Saturday