Wayne Rooney: Keys for Midfielder to Lead United to Champions League Success

Dan Talintyre@@dantalintyreSenior Analyst IIMarch 4, 2013

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 09:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United celebrates the winning goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium on December 9, 2012 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Manchester United will take on Real Madrid in their biggest match of the year, with the Red Devils eyeing off a potential quarterfinal spot in the UEFA Champions League.

Having drawn the opening leg 1-1, United will take the field at Old Trafford confident that they can progress through at the expense of the Spanish champions. Yet for that to happen, their big-name players will likely need to have big-game performances here—and that starts with Wayne Rooney.

Rooney has been absolutely electric of late in both his creative midfielder role as well as his clinical striker one as well, and will look to utilize both of those here.

The Englishman has a big chance to put his side through to the next round with a strong night here.

Not Get Bogged Down Defensively

The luxury of having a player like Rooney at the top of the attack is that it actually gives Sir Alex Ferguson a second central attacking midfielder on hand.

Rooney loves to drop back into midfield roles and utilize his creative skills, and for the most part this season, it's been a huge success for the Red Devils.

However, in the first leg against Madrid, Rooney's midfield work forced him a long way back defensively—tracking back to pick up the runs of Angel Di Maria and Xabi Alonso—and it left the attacking player somewhat bogged down in United's defense.

Sure the plan was to defend somewhat, but nowhere in the plan would it have been Rooney defending on the top of the box and not getting any higher than that.

For United to have attacking success in this match—which it seems they'll need to—the Red Devils need to push higher up the field when they have the ball. That starts with Rooney, who cannot be too far down the field when he gets the ball; rather, he needs to be moving forward and hitting the space in behind Los Blancos' midfield in order to give United's attack some direction and menace.

Otherwise, Robin van Persie will be isolated and United's attack will not have the coherency or direction that it needs to threaten Madrid here.

Attack the Right Flank

With Cristiano Ronaldo essentially playing as a second striker or left forward more than he does a regulation winger, both Antonio Valencia and Rooney should have plenty of space out on the right flank—especially if Fabio Coentrao pushes high on the left like in the first game.

It is pertinent that Rooney works down that right channel to draw the defense across—giving van Persie every chance to have extra space to operate in the middle.

Rooney found lots of room against Norwich City down the right, and having shown the same against Arsenal and Manchester City earlier in the season, would be smart to try and explore similar channels here. His crossing game has become infinitely better than it once was, and with van Persie in the middle, could find great success for the Red Devils here.

Utilize Dead-Ball Situations

Given the strength of Madrid's attack, it's highly likely that again the Spanish club will dominate the chances throughout this Champions League match.

Thus what United need to do is be clinical when they receive their opportunities and make the most of what they get—much like they did in the first leg, when a rare attacking foray produced a corner and a Danny Welbeck goal from the subsequent corner.

It was Rooney delivering the corner that time, and the England international needs to again utilize the deal-ball situations he gets throughout this match.

Be that corners or free kicks, Rooney needs to trouble Diego Lopez with every chance he has and not waste an opportunity, for it may come back to haunt United.

And like every United fan is praying—please don't miss another penalty.


Who will win this one—Manchester United or Real Madrid?

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