In the opening 14 games of the Premier League season, we've seen plenty of hard work from the former Everton man. He is adapting to the arrival of Robin van Persie and the deeper attacking role that suits his game so naturally.
The 27-year-old has provided six assists in eight starts and two substitute appearances—more than any other player in the domestic division. Even so, something doesn't feel quite right about the way Rooney is going about his business.
West Ham wanted to cause an upset on their visit to Manchester. Sam Allardyce set his men up to frustrate, and while most United players coped with the midfield congestion, Rooney fell into a disheartening trap.
He looked lethargic on the ball, slow on the turn and unsure of his decisions. His completed 81 percent of his passes, the second worst ratio of any outfield United player. While Javier Hernandez only managed to execute 79 percent successfully, the tiny Mexican often received the ball under pressure from James Collins and Winston Reid.
Rooney never capitalised on the space he was able to create. He completed just two successful dribbles, was dispossessed once and gave the ball away needlessly on two occasions. Most tellingly, the often-prolific goal scorer failed to add to his meager total of two strikes for the season.
With every lashed shot, a sense of inevitability fell over Rooney's play. Although dogged, West Ham's tiring defence began to leave huge gaps in the second half. Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez continued to buzz across the pitch, pulling Allardyce's back four around with great energy. Rooney was able to receive the ball in dangerous positions, but out of six attempted shots, just one hit the target.
The player's defensive contribution also failed to impress. Rooney didn't make a tackle, interception or clearance across his time on the pitch. Instead, he produced one mistimed foul.
Should Manchester United fans be worried? It's a difficult situation to assess. Rooney has always been a player that scores in bunches. He is quite clearly taking up deeper positions on the field, meaning his opportunities to net are going to drop.
His problem seems to be one of adjustment. At times, Rooney leaves himself too much work to do by sitting in front of United's defence. It's all well and good wanting the ball at every opportunity, but the England international has a tendency to work too hard for possession.
As a direct result, he is failing to consistently support United in key attacking positions. Against West Ham, the likes of van Persie, Cleverley, Anderson and Evra often stroked the ball around the opposition's box. These players drove towards possession in order to create a pocket of space—something Rooney only seemed to do in his own half.
In the 78th minute, a bewildered looking Old Trafford stood up to lightly applaud Rooney's performance. Sir Alex Ferguson substituted the player who did his best to curb any sense of injustice. The crowd hushed before he exited the field, leaving a few seconds of odd silence to consider his display.
Minutes after, the stadium erupted with chants celebrating van Persie. Perhaps this is the underlying point—now United possess another match winner in their ranks, Rooney may find it increasingly difficult to battle his slumber.
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All statistics in this article are courtesy of Whoscored.
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