Over the past few months, Manchester United have regularly struggled when it comes to creativity. Only Chelsea and Southampton have a better defensive record than United this season, with the former conceding one less and Southampton five. This comes as a surprise when you consider how harshly criticised the defence is. Of course, statistics like this don’t tell you the true picture though. To ensure United’s defenders are protected, Louis van Gaal has opted to play the unpopular 3-5-2 formation.

One issue, particularly over recent weeks, has been Rooney in midfield. Often billed as a player capable of filling Paul Scholes’ boots, he has shown himself as somewhat lacking. Up front, he could still do a job for United, but Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie are preferred to him in these positions.

In the 3-5-2, Daley Blind or Marouane Fellaini would be sensible selections, with Ander Herrera, Angel Di Maria or Juan Mata capable of providing attacking element.

Instead, Van Gaal has persisted with Rooney, and has explained his decision on this.

I have to compare him with people like Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata for example, so that is difficult. They all have a high level, so he has to improve. He is a great guy and a great professional also, so that [performance in training] is not the problem. His problem is that he has to compete with high-level players. Rooney is also the captain, so he has a privilege. The other reasons are the players who are in his positions. In this system for example – what we are playing now – that is Mata and that is Angel Di Maria. It is difficult to compete but he did already know that the moment he signed for Manchester United. When you sign at a top club like he did, he knows he has to fight, and he is fighting. I said this week that he was coming back. Some weeks he was down, but he is coming back now.

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