A Striker? A Creator? – Where Should Wayne Rooney Play For Everton This Season?
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Wayne Rooney’s return to Everton from Manchester United is one of the biggest transfers of the summer in the Premier League. The 31-year old left the Old Trafford after having seen his game time reduce significantly over the past two years, has returned to the place where it all started for him about a decade and a half ago.
Rooney’s homecoming has been widely cherished and celebrated by the Everton fans and manager Ronald Koeman too has expressed his delight to get to work with the Englishman. And his performance in the pre-season games has shown that he still has plenty to offer for the Toffees and isn’t the spent force that most people make him out to be.
But, the question remains – where should he play in the Everton line-up? How will Koeman fit him in into the playing XI?
The obvious answer seems like he will play as a centre-forward, following the departure of Romelu Lukaku, who joined United earlier this summer. But can Rooney fill in that role as effectively as Lukaku did last season? Probably not. And it showed during the Merseysiders’ 1-0 win over Ruzomberok in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League qualifiers.
The 31-year old started the game as the focal point of the attack, but could not have a great effect on the proceedings against the minnows. Rooney struggled to get past their backline, he lacked the pace or the power that made him one of the most feared forwards in England and his touch too isn’t what it used to be.
Last season, United manager Jose Mourinho recognised that and as a result, he did not look to play Rooney at the top of the line a lot, nor did he pair him up with Zlatan Ibrahimović, as that would turn out to be a very immobile attack. Everton are likely to use Sandro Ramirez at the top, if they don’t bring in another striker before the window closes.
A role as a No.10 has been spoken about a lot for the England’s leading goal-scorer, and surely, he does have the ability to excel in such a role. But again, with the likes of Davy Klaassen in the ranks, it is unlikely that Rooney will be the preferred option as the playmaker behind the striker. The deeper midfield slots too are completely packed with Idrissa Gueye, the exceptional youngster Tom Davies and Morgan Schneiderlin with Gareth Barry and Muhamed Besic waiting on the sidelines.
So, where does that leave Rooney?
A role on the flanks perhaps? After all, Koeman did hint at that earlier this month.
“A player with those qualities can play out of different positions. But offensively: a No10 behind the striker, a free role from the left, the No9, the No7. That’s the position where Wayne will play,” the manager said at the unveiling, when asked where would Rooney be playing.
With the No.10 role most likely ruled out and given his ineffectiveness as the lone front-man, the wings seem to be the next best option for Everton. He was used in such a role to a good effect by Mourinho towards the end of last season and Koeman too can deploy him in a similar role, especially with Yannick Bolasie sidelined for at least until the new year.
Rooney did shift out to the right-hand side of the attack in the Europa League qualifiers against Ruzomberok in the midweek and as soon as the change was made, his game improved considerably and so did Everton’s. His movement became much sharper and harder to read once he was shunted out on the right flank and Everton too began to play with much more freedom in the final third.
It is just the fourth week of pre-season and it is too early to judge how Rooney’s return to the Goodison Park will pan out. It also remains to be seen where he will fit in into the team, but as things stand now, a free role from the wide areas seem to be where Rooney will be playing for his boyhood club. He did justice to this role against Ruzomberok, but how he fares against better quality opponents will determine how he slots into Koeman’s plans.