Kagawa seizes Rooney's role

Posted by Mark Payne

Manchester United played a professional game against a well-drilled West Ham and moved a point closer to the title that awaits them. This entertaining match contained some memorable goals, but it marks a more important milestone than point number 81 in this season's championship. It might also have been Wayne Rooney's worst performance of the season.

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Sam Allardyce is shameless in his intention to put out long-ball teams who are designed to stifle the strengths of their opponents. Wednesday at Upton Park was no different, with Andy Carroll hassling David de Gea at every corner and a reasonable amount of shirt-pulling all over the pitch.

To his credit, Allardyce's tactics are extremely effective. West Ham are free from the relegation battle with something to spare and they always look capable of scoring from dead-ball situations. United, on the other hand, were almost hampered by trying to play too much football.

This was a game that required a more old-fashioned approach. West Ham prevented United from making their elegant passing triangles in the middle of the pitch so something else was called for. United's most effective forays forward were along the wings where Antonio Valencia has started to regain composure.

The Ecuadorian's season has not been one to saviour. Although returning strongly from a serious injury last year, he has struggled for form since this campaign began. The delight he displayed upon scoring his first goal for a year rivalled Robin van Persie's celebration at Stoke on the weekend. Here was a man relieved to be finally on the score sheet.

Rooney was nowhere near scoring a goal. He gave the ball away on ten occasions at Upton Park, a higher percentage of misplaced passes than any other player on the pitch. He cut a forlorn figure in the middle of the pitch and Shinji Kagawa was a much more effective presence. The England man's stock is certainly falling.

Less scrupulous employers will unsettle staff they would like to lose by mucking them around. In playing Rooney out of position and dropping him for the biggest matches, that could be what Sir Alex Ferguson is doing.

Rooney is on the record as preferring to play as the central striker. It is difficult to remember the last time he played in that position for United. His last league goal came against Norwich on March 2nd. Kagawa scored three in that game.

The smart money is on Kagawa being player of the year next season. Given a run of games, he can become the centre of what is a young and vibrant Manchester United squad. More muscle will be needed to defeat sides like West Ham in the future, but the way this season is finishing a point was sufficient. If he doesn't put in some lightening performances before the end of the campaign, Rooney will be flexing his muscles elsewhere next year.

Follow Mark on www.twitter.com/markjpayne

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