Before the former Manchester United and DC United player Wayne Rooney arrived at Derby County, they were not in a good place on the table in the EFL Championship. However, when Rooney arrived there in January, they began to earn more points per match. Though other factors may also affect the performance of Derby County, in this analysis we will only delve into how Rooney affected the performance of Derby, and what problems they have encountered when they played without Rooney. Then we will suggest some internal solutions for these problems if Rooney is not on the pitch.
In this tactical analysis, we will delve into what Wayne Rooney contributed to Derby County, as well as what problems Derby County encountered without Rooney. At the end of this scout report, we’ll also suggest some solutions to tackles these problems.
Initial data check
Before we delve into the real changes Rooney exerted, we’ll first take a look at Rooney’s stats compared to his position mates, as he mainly played #10 and as a defensive midfielder for Derby.
The first metrics we’ll be looking at are progressive passes per 90 and deep completions per 90. These metrics can in some way reveal players’ contribution to ball progression and hitting the ball into dangerous areas.
As we can see from above, Rooney ranked 1st in terms of progressive per 90 (9.1). He also possessed a good figure in deep completion per 90 (1.21), ranking the 2nd amongst all the midfielders. Thus, from a statistical aspect, he helps a lot in ball progression and getting the ball into dangerous areas.
The second metrics we’ll be looking at are through passes per 90 and its accuracy, as through passes indicate penetrating lines and teammates might have a receiving position where defenders are fewer.
As we can see from above that Rooney was giving the most through passes amongst all the midfielders. He had 1.63 thru passes per 90, though the accuracy was not the best (25.64%). However, this metric in some way manifests Rooney’s willingness to create an advance and better position for a teammate to receive.
Then we’ll take a look at defensive duels per 90 and this metric only measures the defensive style of a player.
As we can see from above, Rooney only had 3.17 defensive duels per 90, the lowest amongst all these midfielders. Nevertheless, as this metric is only an indicator for the defensive style of play, the contribution in defending for Rooney may appear in his positioning.
How did Rooney serve as a winning factor
As we can observe from the data analysis part, Rooney possessed some great numbers in ball progression and passes into a more favourable area. This is true whereas he did more than just the simple progression and hitting the ball into a good position.
In attack, there are generally four stages. The last two stages are giving the final passes and finishing, so the final passes create chances for finishing. The quality of the final passes might largely affect the finishing outcome, as the weight of the final passes and where the final passes aim at will influence the finishing technique and location. Thus, a good final pass will create a good finishing chance.
Employing the above logic, it is the same as to create chances for giving final passes. The prerequisite of giving good final passes is to create decent giving final passes chances. Press-resistant Rooney is the one that can create good final passes chances for Derby County, utilising his vision and understanding of the game.
As Rooney’s knowledge of the game is abundant, he often recognised the right time to switch the play, where there was a lot of space for progression and 1v1 on the weak side. This may help his teammates on the weak side to have more opening to operate and therefore a higher possibility to release final passes of high quality.
On top of this, Rooney could also hit long into space on the flank behind the defensive line in a well-timed manner. This kind of passes would guide his teammates into space where there wouldn’t be immediate pressure on the ball. Consequently, his teammates could have time and space on the flank to play the cross with high quality. Now let’s see an example of this:
In the above image, we can observe that Rooney possessed the ball with direct pressure from the opponent. He was initially facing the left flank but his scanning the surrounding enabled him to see the opening on the right. When he received the ball from the left he quickly turned and faced the right flank. He then exploited the timing to switch the play quickly to the right, guiding his teammate into space. Then his teammate hit a cross unmarked and created a high finishing opportunity. Thus, this is what Rooney contributed to Derby County’s attacking. He exploited the right time to switch the play or play in behind to create a high-quality chance for hitting the final passes.
Apart from his offensive contribution, when playing as a defensive midfielder, Rooney also contributed to defending and transition utilising his positioning. His positioning helped protect crucial space in low block defending, which increased the possibility of recovering possession and also a good place for starting the offensive transition. Also, his positioning in defensive transition could allow his teammates to move higher as he could cover the space well. Now let’s take a look at the examples:
In the above scenario, Rooney was protecting the gap between flank players and players in the box. He positioned himself on the half-space and a place where would be perfect to launch the counter if he intercepted the ball. As the opponent hit an errant cross which was brought down by Rooney’s head, he successfully recovered and picked the teammate upfront in the counter. Now we’ll take a look at an example of his positioning in defensive transition:
From the above scenario, we can see that Rooney positioned himself good in defensive transition. His teammate had an errant pass in this scenario but Rooney quickly positioned himself to prevent the opponent from passing forward. This forced the opponent to hesitate and buy time for his teammates to stay upfront and put direct pressure on the ball, instead of dropping immediately. Later his teammates helped recover possession back.
Problems that Derby encounter without Rooney
As we’ve talked about what Rooney can broadly bring to Derby County, we’ll take a comparative method and see what problems Derby would encounter without Rooney.
In general, as we have talked about in the last section, Rooney exploited the right time to put the ball in space, where his teammates could face less pressure on the ball in giving final passes. This is what Derby had difficulty in without Rooney: they might be able to put the ball into the final passes stage, whereas there would be too little space and too many opponents to hit a high-quality final pass. This problem occurs mainly due to mistiming of the passes of pivots. They didn’t recognise the trigger and scenario to play the ball into opening final passes areas. Instead, they might have some meaningless square passes in front of the defensive block. This might buy time for the opponent to drop. Especially for the opponent’s winger to have more time to chase Derby’s full-backs, as full-backs were usually the final-passer in Derby’s system. Thus, without Rooney playing as a pivot, the timing of the play might seem inappropriate and it hurt the giving final passes stage for Derby. Now let’s check an example of this:
In the above scenario, Duane Holmes and George Evans were playing as the pivots in the 4-2-3-1 system. They had the chance to hit to the right to exploit the space behind the defensive line. However, they passed between each other which gave time for the opponent to drop in an organised way. Thus they missed the good time to create a good final pass chance, and when they switched the ball to the right, the right-back didn’t have much space. Even though he hit the final pass, it was not of good quality.
From the defensive perspective, without Rooney on the pitch, the space in front of the defensive line was not well-protected. The positioning of other pivots might not be that good a Rooney’s. Let’s take a look at one example of this:
In the above scenario, Holmes and Evans were playing as pivots. You can see from the image that Holmes was completely out of his position but didn’t take any specific role in defending. Evans was doing a bit ball watching as he didn’t stay compact with the defensive line. As a result, the ball carrier had the space to cut inside and created a finishing opportunity.
Future internal solution for these problems
With the player profile, Derby have for next season, there are some possible ways to remedy the problems without Rooney. To fix the defensive problem in the midfield area, Jason Knight might be the key. Knight’s running capacity is fabulous as he can cover the whole flank in defending, even if he is a winger. He is willing to drop fast and deep to mark the opponent’s full-back when out of possession, and also willing to run up the field to provide depth in possession. He can also serve as a link player upfront to help open the play. Thus, it might worth a shot to play him as the central attacking midfielder in Derby’s 4-2-3-1 system.
In defending he might be able to drop in the midfield and holding zone to help protect the space in the centre, but the drawback of this might be the lack of sharpness in attack. Knight is not a traditional playmaker and his creativity is not as good as Holmes or Tom Lawrence, who can creatively combine with other teammates on the pitch. Hence this might be taken into consideration when Knight is deployed as the #10.
To solve the final passes problem, there are already some hints in some Derby matches. One solution for this is to deploy Martyn Waghorn as the inverted right winger/ attacking midfielder. Waghorn is left-footed and he could constantly drop in front of the opponent’s midfield line on the right half-space. After receiving, he would use his left to switch the play. This is done in the second stage of the attacking- penetrating the midfield, and the opponent usually stays in the mid-block. This means there will be enough space behind the defensive line to exploit, and the receiver on the left would have enough space to operate a high-quality final pass. This has the same effect as Rooney’s switching play. Now let’s look at one example of this:
From the first image, we can see that Waghorn lost his marker in a well-timed manner to get the ball. He dropped in front of the opponent’s midfield line and tried to orient his body to the left with the first two touches. After adjusting his body shape to face the left, he picked his teammate on the left flank, who was in a complete opening. We could see this in the second image. The teammate on the left had time and space to operate the final pass, and therefore giving he final pass of high quality that created a shot.
However, Waghorn is already 30 years old. It’s not likely to ask him to drop every match into the midfield area, as this kind of runs may consume his football career in advance.
As this former Premier League striker played a crucial role in Derby’s tactics, it’s necessary to figure out more effective remedies to fix the problems when he is not around. The solutions above may only be references and recruitment on new players might also be an effective way to tackle these problems.