LONDON, ENLAND - JUNE 02: England Captain Rio Ferdinand, joined by Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole at Niketown London on June 2, 2010 in London, England. At the Nike 'No More Talk' event, they said their farewells to football fans before departing for South Africa. (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images for Nike)

Even Without Scoring Goals, Wayne Rooney Should Be An Immediate Help To Manchester United

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Even Without Scoring Goals, Wayne Rooney Should Be An Immediate Help To Manchester United

Having returned from the United States, Wayne Rooney is set to be on Manchester United's bench on Saturday, where it will be difficult to imagine him not playing. If United is drawn or losing, Rooney would be Alex Ferguson's attacking option. If the Red Devils are protecting a lead, Rooney's skill on the ball could help retain possession and kill off the match, while a large United lead could give Ferguson a semi-controlled environment in which to run-out his star. In short, if he's able to dress, he probably plays.

I'm unsure whether Rooney's addition helps United. If he returns to the Wayne Rooney of a year ago, no doubt Manchester United is better. They're not only better, they become the clear league favorite. But we're going on nine months since Rooney has been that player. It's more reasonable to assume the Wayne Rooney returning from Beaverton will continue his search for his scoring touch, which forces you to wonder whether his addition could potentially disrupt a team that's found some form since the return of Rio Ferdinand. United's three points back in league and in control of their Champions League group, places reached without Wayne Rooney.

There's also the idea that Rooney could disrupt the team. Before his sabbatical, Rooney was publicly questioning the club's characterization of his ankle injury. He also engaged in a very open ploy to get a better contract, saying he would not resign with the club (before he eventually did). This week we read how Alex Ferguson is still upset with Paul Stretford (Rooney's agent), and while he has not expressed similar derision toward Rooney, how can Ferguson fully separate the player's decisions from the actions of his agent?

Manchester United Goal Scoring, 2010-11 Premier League Season

Known as a goal scorer, Wayne Rooney has been amongst United's worst per minute. At least, amongst the Red Devils' attacking players.

Here are all of the Manchester United forwards and midfielders who have played at least 90 minutes this season sorted by goals per 90 minutes:

Player GP MP G G/90
Michael Owen 4 96 1 0.93
Federico Macheda 5 134 1 0.67
Dimitar Berbatov 12 961 6 0.56
Antonio Valencia 2 165 1 0.54
Javier Hernández 9 570 3 0.47
Park Ji-Sung 7 469 2 0.38
Nani 12 992 4 0.36
Wayne Rooney 5 323 1 0.28
Ryan Giggs 7 391 1 0.23
Darren Fletcher 12 1061 2 0.17
Paul Scholes 12 852 1 0.11
Michael Carrick 6 377 0 0
Gabriel Obertan 4 113 0 0
Anderson 3 153 0 0

Then there's the problem of displacing Javier Hernández or Dimitar Berbatov. Again, if Rooney is at his best, no problem, but this year's Wayne Rooney has one goal in five league appearances. That's the same rate as Federico Macheda, worse than Michael Owen's, and when you consider minutes played (instead of appearances), Rooney's goal rate looks worse. Berbatov has been good for six in 12, while Hernández has started his Premier League career with three goals in nine. If Ferguson is intent on working Rooney back in, it might be a temporary setback, a decrease in production caused by displacing one of Berbatov or Hernández.

Notice the qualifier "might" in that last sentence, because other results from this season hint Rooney's return will have an immediate, positive effect, regardless of his individual production. United's league record this year is 6-7-0, but in Rooney's four starts they're 3-1-0. In those matches, United's averaged 2.25 goals per match. In matches Rooney has not started, United's production drops to 1.67. We're only talking about samples of four and nine matches, but they're data sets that lend more credence to claims Rooney's contributions go beyond goal scoring.

The one place where United has done worse when Rooney plays is goals allowed. The team's allowed 1.50 goals per match when he starts. In the other nine games, 1.00, though that's more a testament to Rio Ferdinand's impact than Rooney's. The two have only played together once this year (October 16 versus West Bromwich Albion). Rooney's played more toward the beginning of the season. Ferdinand's played since. In his seven matches, Manchester United's allowed 0.86 goals per match. When Ferdinand hasn't played, United's allowed 1.50 goals per match.

Starting Saturday, Manchester United should have their two most important players together for only the second time this season. Next weekend against Blackburn, they could start together for the first time this season. Even if Rooney's goal scoring problems persist, the benefits of having him and Ferdinand in the same lineup could outweigh any momentary setback United might incur.

The Effects - With and Without Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand

I mentioned these numbers in the piece, but they deserve a slightly better presentation.

Aside from a few minutes at the end of United's match against West Brom, the club's two most important players - Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand - have not played together this season.

Looking at the numbers, below, hints United could be the Premier League's favorite should their most important players become their best, healthiest performers.

Team Goals/Match Team Goals Allowed/Match
Player W/ Starting W/O Starting W/ Starting W/O Starting
Wayne Rooney 2.25 1.67 1.50 1.00
Rio Ferdinand 1.42 2.50 0.86 1.50
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