Rooney's more effective as a striker than a midfielder
MAN UNITED 3
(Chris Smalling 6, 45+3, Robin van Persie 82-pen)
(Danny Ings 12)
Versatility, as Wayne Rooney has found out, is a double-edged sword.
England's best striker of his generation now can't command a spot up front for his club.
He's too good in midfield, or at least that's what his Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal believes.
And so, United's third most prolific hitman in history with 224 goals finds himself parked in the middle of the park.
Not since a 2-1 away win over Southampton on Dec 8 last year has he started as a striker.
As England manager Roy Hodgson still mulls over whether to play his captain as a target man or as a support striker in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, van Gaal deployed him as the defensive broom in front of his backline in yesterday morning's (Singapore time) 3-1 win over Burnley.
Danny Blind was injured and, as a result, Rooney went even deeper and operated as a holding midfielder for most of the match.
The fact that he was sitting behind substitute Ander Herrera and Angel di Maria will not be lost on anyone.
In an FA Cup fourth-round replay against Cambridge United earlier this month, van Gaal also played Marouane Fellaini, a midfielder of the more physical and defensive variety, in a more advanced role than Rooney.
But the question is, are United better served with him near the centre circle than at the top?
The midfield game is not new to Rooney.
Even Sir Alex Ferguson has utilised him in that position before, but he had never had his hand so readily on the button as van Gaal, who seems to have absolutely no qualms about playing Rooney out of position.
If the 29-year-old has a problem with that, he isn't showing it.
Three years ago, he almost left the Red Devils because he loathed the midfield job.
But, last September, he said: "I know I've the qualities to play in midfield. I've done it comfortably.
"There'll come a time when I move into a deeper position for good and that could be this week, it could be in a couple of years. It's down to the manager and I'll accept it."
Yet, he has also made it clear that he would very much more prefer to be still loitering in the final third of the field.
His biggest disadvantage, though, is also one of his best assets.
Rooney loves a tackle, and he's as robust and energetic as they come.
With his physical and technical qualities, he probably won't have a problem shining in any outfield position.
But van Gaal, who has already made many perplexing tactical decisions in his short time at the club, is not drawing the best out of the England man.
Once, he was the man United turn to for goals on the big occasions but, in 2015, he has yet to register a single shot on target.
If United are flying at the moment, then it could be argued that Rooney's taking one for the team.
But they have been pretty atrocious in recent weeks, and certainly so against a very modest Burnley side yesterday morning.
At the moment, Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie, who have 14 league goals between them, aren't firing on all cylinders.
Di Maria, who has started up front on a few occasions at the expense of Rooney, has just three to his name.
Van Gaal came with a reputation of being an enigmatic figure.
He's proving that now. At Rooney's expense.
Fans' whistles worry van Gaal
Louis van Gaal fears the public support he has received from Manchester United fans may be ebbing away.
United bounced back from their drab 1-1 draw at West Ham by beating Burnley 3-1 at Old Trafford yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Chris Smalling scored twice and Robin van Persie converted from the penalty spot late on but, Burnley, who equalised through Danny Ings in the 12th minute, were right in the match and were unlucky to leave empty-handed.
Van Gaal has received widespread support from the United fan base since his appointment last summer, but he heard whistles from the home support towards their own team in the first half and that is a worry for the 63-year-old.
"I heard the first whistles," the United boss said. "That is a concern because we are playing for the fans.
"The fans are the most important part of the club.
"They keep the club living and that is very important, but they also applauded after the match and always in matches, there are 90 minutes, not 45."
As van Gaal pointed out, the vast majority of fans cheered their team on for most of the match, which came after the United boss had come in for heavy criticism following the stalemate at West Ham.
Van Gaal's men were branded "long-ball United" by Sam Allardyce following the 1-1 draw.
The Dutchman responded at his press conference on Tuesday by pulling out a four-page dossier filled with statistics and diagrams supposedly undermining the Hammers boss' claims.
Van Gaal's men cut out the long punts up the field against Burnley, but they often lacked creativity going forward.
The Dutchman admitted that the fans, who chanted "4-4-2" at him after he played a three-man defence at QPR last month, deserve better.
When asked if his players looked nervous, van Gaal said: "Today, it was like that, I agree with that, so that is a pity because the fans were still supporting, because of the positive (score) at half-time.
"I thought that was fantastic when the team were playing (like) that. I never had that experience with my other teams, so I was happy with the support of the teams.
"But, of course, we cannot have that the next game because then we are out of the FA Cup because we were also lucky today." - PA Sport.
Man United report drop in revenue
Manchester United have reported a drop in revenue by 14 per cent for the second quarter of their financial year due to their absence from the Champions League.
United's revenues for the three months ending Dec 31 were £105.7 million ($219m) compared to £122.9m a year ago - but not as great a drop as some analysts had predicted due to a reduction in the club's costs and a rise in commercial income.
United's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward said the club, currently third in the Premier League table, were well-placed to return to the Champions League next season.
The biggest impact on the finances has been the lack of broadcast income from European football, down 46.9 per cent to £28.4m.
The wage bill has dropped £2.9m over the three months - mainly due to a reduction in the size of the squad compared to last season.
- PA Sport.