Manchester United v Fulham - Barclays Premier League

Just a quick point of analysis. A statistic courtesy of StatsZone (courtesy of Opta) has been floating around today, on the practical absence of passing action between Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in their last two games. In fact, four of their eight total passes were from kick offs at the centre circle.

There’s nothing wrong with citing this kind of stat in isolation, but in a Reddit culture where single floating statistical facts are passed around apparently able to speak for themselves, it encourages a kind of magical thinking. “They hardly passed to each other at all! What an ineffective strike partnership!”

The problem is we’re inconvenienced by the fact that there are nine other United players out there. We also don’t know either player’s proscribed tactical roles. So why not have a look at what each player actually did?

It’s immediately evident from the passing data in the Fulham match that Rooney mostly received passes from Juan Mata and Michael Carrick (which makes sense). Crucially however, Rooney either cycled possession a little deeper in the pitch to Carrick, or to the left flank to Evra. The bulk of his forward passes were to the attack-minded Juan Mata. Robin van Persie doesn’t register. So is that Rooney’s fault?

RvP passes Fulham copy

You can see above Robin van Persie’s total passes from the Fulham game. The highest pass combo with a single player from van Persie was four, to Januzaj. Van Persie’s highest pass combo to was to Rooney, also at four. In fact van Persie didn’t do much passing at all. To anyone. Clearly the idea against Fulham was for RvP to be the big man up front getting on top of one of the several thousand crosses sent his way, not to pass maniacally back and forth to Rooney to rack up the numbers.

It was exactly the same in the Stoke game. Van Persie’s top received and given passes stood at three. This is fairly typical for out and out forwards. Far more important is the fact RvP scored in both games, and had the lion’s share of chances in both matches. The difference is Rooney’s role is much more withdrawn, a crucial go between through Mata, Carrick and Evra on the flank. Clearly Moyes wanted his side to cross the ball…a lot.

The point here is again to avoid taking stats in isolation to mean anything at all. You watched the game with your own two eyes…what was RvP’s job? Did he do it? United aren’t good at the moment, but the number of passes he received or made to Rooney doesn’t have much to do with it.

All figures cited from the FourFourTwo StatsZone app, available here