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Can Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson play together?

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Big Sam says no.

Everton v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Sam Allardyce has come out and said something that a lot of us realized a while ago: Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson can’t play together. He cited their lack of pace as the reason why this couldn’t be done.

Now, for some of you, this may suggest a selection dilemma, but it’s really not even remotely close to one. Wayne Rooney is not good enough to be weekly starter on this team.

Early in the season, without the emergence of Oumar Niasse the purchases of Cenk Tosun and Theo Walcott, and the return to health of Yannick Bolasie, we needed Wayne out there. To his credit, Rooney found a way to come up with some goals. But closer inspection of those goals reveals a player who is riding his status more than his ability.

Of his ten Premier League goals this term, Wayne Rooney has three made penalties. He’s only taking penalties because of the name on the back of his jersey, which we can tell from the fact that he’s only converted 60% of his chances from the spot this season.

Of his remaining seven goals, one of them was a play where he was fortunate enough to have his own penalty miss come back to him for a finish, so it wasn’t a true open play goal. In fact, most stat companies count it as a set piece goal for Rooney, for what it’s worth.

So that leaves us with six open play goals. Among those we have the tap in rebound against Newcastle which, kudos to Wayne for being there but there’s not exactly a ton of skill in that finish, and the long bomb against West Ham which, sweetly hit as it was, isn’t something that’s really replicable in the offense.

That means that Wayne Rooney has four open play goals that are part of the normal offense in 1469 league minutes this campaign to go with two assists.

BUT WAIT, you say - Gylfi only has three goals and two assists this campaign! True, but let’s break down some underlying numbers. Since we’ve talked about Rooney quite a bit already, we’ll give you his at a glance:

For those who read regularly, you should be used to these radars. This one is abysmal. And as Knutson points out, it’s not like his defensive stats are going to justify playing him deeper, so all of you ‘hey let’s play Wayne in a double pivot’ folks can go ahead and forget about that.

Besides being a world class free kick taker (his free kicks statistically rival those of Toni Kroos from Real Madrid) Gylfi Sigurdsson is also dispossessed at A THIRD the rate that Wayne Rooney is.

That’s an incredible difference given how experienced Rooney is and the fact that both players have occupied similar depths on the pitch this season.

In another fascinating comparison, Rooney and Sigurdsson attempt the exact same number of dribbles per 90 minutes and Rooney completes 36% of his while Gylfi completes 63%, so when we look at that dispossession stat we can’t say Wayne is losing the ball more because he’s dribbling more. He’s losing the ball more because he’s significantly worse on the ball.

These are total (to date) season stats which don’t reflect another important point. Gylfi’s best performances have been in the last couple months while Rooney was at his most impactful at the beginning of the season. On current form Sigurdsson is the higher performer.

With neither player being natural in the double pivot and pace now available on the wings, it has to be either Sigurdsson or Rooney in the 10 slot and Sigurdsson is just better at it. That doesn’t mean that Rooney doesn't still have a role in the team, it just means that his role is no longer that of a first choice starter.