Jose Mourinho is a big fan of Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney. Chelsea have confirmed that they've made a bid for him. Despite United's protestations that they're not prepared to rid themselves of the player just yet, transfer request or no, it's probably time that we started thinking seriously about how the team might play with Rooney coming in this summer.
Rooney's versatility is the most important part of his game and one of the reasons he's an attractive purchase, but it's also hindered his career. At United, he's consistently been played deeper, behind the main striker, and although at his very best he's excellent as a number ten, if he goes off his game at all he is... not. As it stands, his current team has a better option there in Shinji Kagawa, and they've also got an elite, line-leading centre forward in Robin van Persie.
Chelsea, on the other hand, have a clear vacancy at centre forward. Despite the progress that Romelu Lukaku has made over the past twelve months, it seems clear to me that Rooney would slot in as the first choice centre forward. The versatility is still important -- it allows us to keep him in the lineup on a regular basis if both he and Lukaku are on form -- but the Blues would be looking at him to lead the line first and foremost.
So what should we expect out of a Rooney-led Chelsea? Let's assume, first of all, that he recovers some of his form. He's 27 years old and a down year (or two) shouldn't be considered evidence of terminal decline. If he doesn't excel... well, we're down a lot of money and he won't get that much playing time, which is entirely possible but not really worth thinking about in a tactical sense.
All three centre forward options currently on the squad are 'pure' strikers. Granted, they all have different styles and Lukaku seems to be evolving into something more interesting, but none will be mistaken for a playmaker anytime soon. This is where Rooney would make a difference -- he can and will roam all over the pitch to help set up attacks as well as finish them off, and he's a significantly more useful defensive player than the current trio.
It's easy to understand where the interest in acquiring Rooney comes from. If he gets back to his best, suddenly Chelsea have an entirely fluid front four, with the three attacking players interchanging seamlessly with a top-class centre forward. That's something that Demba Ba, Fernando Torres and Lukaku won't get you.
An interchange wouldn't be very helpful if the attacking midfielders aren't natural goalscorers, but that's not the case at Stamford Bridge. All three of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Andre Schurrle are completely capable of making centre forward runs when required (and it's been required of the former two a great deal with the striking problems at the club), and if Rooney can move the defence around and open up any spaces, they'll be exploited ruthlessly by his colleagues.
So, that's Chelsea with Rooney (the good version), a team that can come at your from essentially everywhere at once and score anywhere in their front line. But what about the current side?
We've already seen it in action, as far as Torres and Ba go. Ba is a focal point whom the attackers can play off, while Torres is... um... beyond description at this point, I think. But in general, neither of them are comfortable with dropping deep, which makes them easier to mark. The same can be said of Lukaku, who specialises in being a handful one on one rather than ghosting around players.
Which isn't to say Rooney wouldn't be able to play as a traditional centre forward if he wanted to. The key is that he can also play virtually everywhere else as well. Assuming that a change of scene gives him the motivation to break out of his recent doldrums -- which is a big assumption, mind you -- Rooney could be the key to unlocking this side's potential.
The question now is whether or not the Blues want to spend a huge amount of money to see whether Mourinho can get the best out of a player who was once up there as one of the best in the world. It's not a no-doubter by any means, but there's certainly some upside there.
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