On 5th March, Manchester United will host Real Madrid in the second-leg of their Round of 16 Champions League tie.
The first leg ended in a 1-1 draw with United manager Sir Alex Ferguson deploying slightly defensive minded, yet highly effective tactics.
The midfield strata that Fergie used against Los Blancos consisted of Phil Jones, Michael Carrick, Danny Welbeck, Shinji Kagawa and Wayne Rooney, with the latter starting as the right-winger.
However, Rooney failed to produce the required goods on the flank and looked increasingly uncomfortable, particularly when defending against the partnership of Cristiano Ronaldo and Fabio Coentrao.
The testament to this claim is Rooney’s involvement in two of Real Madrid’s best chances during the game.
First came when Rooney unnecessarily committed himself back to counter Ronaldo’s threat, although Rafael Da Silva and Phil Jones were already defending against the Portugal international. As a result, the marauding Coentrao was left unmarked and the wing-back eventually hit the woodwork.
Second came when Rooney failed to block Angel Di Maria’s cross into the United penalty area that eventually led to Ronaldo’s equalizer.
In addition to that, although the England international did provide the assist for Welbeck's goal, his overall attacking contributions were limited. His passing looked way out of sorts, with just a 62% passing success rate (only Rafael and Robin van Persie had a worse rate among the starting outfield players) and he looked rather keen to shift centrally and originate counter-attacks when United had possession.
With Phil Jones’ inclusion a big doubt and United nonetheless playing at home, the domestic table-toppers must try to outscore their opponents, rather than going for a ‘positive result’ and therefore, it will be best to play Rooney in his preferred position as the No 10 and not as a makeshift winger.
His partnership with van Persie upfront could be pivotal to trouble Sergio Ramos and co. and frankly, Rooney is just not suited for a winger’s role.
Antonio Valencia, albeit not in form, provides defensive insurance and flourishes in games in which United usually exert pressure and counter-attack, is a decent alternative and so is Luis Nani, a player slowly returning back to form with impressive outputs against Reading and QPR over the past week.