On the back of Manchester United’s drab draw with Burnley, Marcos Rojo can’t make his debut soon enough.
For the £16 million signing from Sporting Lisbon is exactly the type of defender Louis van Gaal needs in his team.
In the game at Turf Moor, the Red Devils were crying out for a player like Rojo. That is, they were desperate for a centre-back who could bring the ball out from the back.
Merely dribbling forward with the ball from defence may not seem like much, but it’s an important thing for a defender to do – and is not the easiest thing in the world.
When a centre-back comes forward with the ball, that allows the midfielders to get into spaces where they can influence play.
Dropping deep to pick up the ball well inside their own half makes it harder for a midfielder to envisage their next pass and draws the rest of the team backwards, helping the opposition shut off the spaces in the final third.
It’s why Juan Mata was so ineffective against Burnley. He couldn’t get into the right places to make the killer pass for Robin van Persie or Wayne Rooney because he had to come deeper for the ball, allowing Burnley to press higher and force the ball to ineffective areas on the wings.
Hence van Persie and Rooney also had poor games, as the service was mostly shut off and they had to try their luck for most of the game from crosses into the penalty area.
Angel di Maria was impressive and managed to give United’s play some flow with clever passes through the gaps in Burnley’s midfield line and great, accurate long balls to good areas on the wing, but there was only so much he could do from central midfield.
For a centre-back however, having the confidence to go forward with the ball isn’t the easiest thing in the world, especially in high stake Premier League games where one heavy touch could lead to being dispossessed, the goalkeeper being exposed and a goal being conceded.
And with the amount of money there is riding on each game – not to mention the defender’s clean sheet bonus and the potential for him to miss out on his appearance bonus the next game – it’s clear to see why Jonny Evans, Phil Jones or Tyler Blackett weren’t all too keen to take the ball forward in the last game.
Plus, they’re not the best at dribbling.
Marcos Rojo however does have that confidence. The amount of long range shots he had for Sporting Lisbon last season is testament to that – he’s a player who likes to get forward from central defence, and take the ball with him.
And while he played at left-back for Argentina at the World Cup, his two successful dribbles attacking the right side pairing of Granit Xhaka and Stephan Lichtsteiner against Switzerland show his dribbling ability when he is allowed to run with the ball.
Which is what Louis van Gaal wants, and what has been missing in his team – that centre-back with the confidence to take the ball forward.
It’s only a small thing, but it takes cajones to bring the ball forward and it also brings the rest of the team into play.
When a defender can do that however, it brings everyone else into play and forces gaps to open in the opponent’s defensive and midfield lines.
Di Maria was said to be the man who can help Juan Mata get his Manchester United career back on track. But it could well be Marcos Rojo who improves Mata’s game, and the rest of the team.