Once again, Wayne Rooney is the center of attention at Manchester Utd.
After a disappointing match against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, the English striker was left on the bench for the Spanish side's visit to Old Trafford on Tuesday.
Rooney has started on the sidelines four times in the league this season, but this omission from the starting XI appears to represent a change in the 27-year-old's value at the club.
He is no longer the player for whom Sir Alex Ferguson moved mountains to retain when his contract was up for negotiation in 2010. It is being suggested that the Scottish manager feels Rooney's best years may be behind him, perhaps favoring Danny Welbeck as a strike partner for Robin van Persie.
Ferguson has never been scared to sell off his biggest players while playing integral roles—just ask David Beckham, Jaap Stam or Ruud van Nistelrooy—and many believe Rooney is next for the chopping board.
ESPN are among those who believe the Red Devils will be open to a £35 million transfer this summer. The Manchester United Supporters' Trust have given their blessing to Rooney's departure, stressing that Sir Alex Ferguson made the right call by benching him this week.
But did Wayne Rooney deserve to be dropped for Danny Welbeck on Tuesday?
Ferguson has expressed his concern for Rooney's fitness several times this season and made a subtle reference to it before the Madrid game. Tactically, it must be said, the utilization of Welbeck worked perfectly up until Nani's controversial red card completely derailed the plan across the field.
However, would Rooney have made the difference for a team that Jose Mourinho insisted were better than his? He is a proven marksman whose ability to find the net is undoubtedly superior to that of Welbeck. Rooney has managed 11 goals in 20 Premier League matches this season, while Welbeck has found the net just once in 21 outings.
Rooney has also taken his chances on goal more often in the league this season. He has had 53 shots (2.65 per game), compared to Welbeck's 19 (0.95 per game). Of those shots, Rooney has put an average of 1.2 on target per game. Welbeck, on the other hand, has managed half that amount—0.6 on target per match.
Of course, some of these stats are skewed by the fact that Welbeck has found himself playing out wide as a result of Manchester Utd's abundance of attacking options.
Yet Rooney has converted 21 percent of all Premier League chances so far, whereas the 22-year-old has converted just five percent. That statistic speaks volumes about their relative abilities in front of goal, regardless of what position on the field they find themselves in.
In many respects, Rooney has also proven himself as a better wide contributor. This season, he has delivered 66 crosses, 13 of which were accurate. Playing in one less game, Welbeck has put just six crosses in the box, half of which found a man in red.
Rooney has also been more generous to his colleagues: He has created 38 Premier League chances (including assists), compared to Welbeck's 18 (of which four were assists).
Furthermore, Rooney has completed 719 passes in the attacking zone this season, while Welbeck has managed less than half that amount (318).
Rooney also appears to work harder to win back the ball: He has gained possession twice as much as Welbeck in the mid-third, also wins the ball back more up front and at the back. In this domestic campaign, Rooney has won 94 percent of his tackles, compared to Welbeck's 78 percent.
There are plenty of numbers to digest here, but the general trend shows that Rooney has been a better forward than Welbeck in this domestic campaign in virtually every aspect.
Of course, statistics do not give the whole picture in the beautiful game.
In fact, Andres Villas-Boas recently suggested that the use of empirical data in football is "useless," insisting, "the mind and how the players feel" are often more important. This instinctive approach to team selection may well have been Ferguson's basis for starting Welbeck.
However, looking at the numbers, one can only wonder how different the game on Tuesday may have been if Rooney was in the starting XI.