Six goals. Three assists. 15 appearances. But, at the time of publication, Troy Deeney has only scored one goal from open play this season. Averaging one goal contribution per 110 minutes is an impressive output. Only scoring once from open play in 15 appearances, however, is as far from prolific as it gets. But, despite Deeney’s underwhelming non-penalty goalscoring record, his best contributions this season will prove to be from a modified role.
How Deeney Was Most Effective Against Stoke
In Watford’s recent 2-1 triumph against Stoke City, Deeney put forward a Man of the Match performance. His goal in the match, unsurprisingly, came from the penalty spot. His assist, on the other hand, was a stroke of the highest quality. Moreover, Deeney played a pivotal part in the winning of the penalty he subsequently converted.
In the first half of the match, the Potters dominated the midfield. The Hornets attempted to press using a 4-4-2, to which Stoke’s 4-3-3 easily beat through their outnumbering in the midfield. The reason Watford usurped control in the second half was directly due to Deeney. Instead of staying in as advanced of a position as Joao Pedro was while defending, Deeney dropped into the midfield. Thus, the Hornets effectively had three center-midfielders to counter Stoke’s three.
Deeney’s slotting into the midfield did not only benefit the Hornets in terms of defending and possession. His positioning in a central-attacking-midfielder role created both of the Hornets’ goals.
In the 62nd minute, when Deeney received the ball six yards outside of the box, there were four Hornets players in more advanced positions. Deeney, typically one of the two furthest men forward, then delicately used the outside of his right boot to lift the ball over Stoke’s defensive line. The ball landed neatly on Ismaila Sarr’s chest. Sarr’s attempt was saved, though Pedro was taken down when pursuing the rebound to earn the penalty.
As notably as Deeney did to find Sarr in the build-up to the penalty, he did even more impressively in the 68thminute. When Tom Cleverley picked up the ball in the Hornets’ defensive half, Deeney had already checked into the midfield to receive the ball. By the time Cleverley found Deeney, the skipper had checked over his shoulder multiple times to spot the nearest defender and find the run of Sarr. So, by the time Deeney received the pass, he knew exactly what he had to do. With a perfectly-weighted first-touch pass, the 32-year-old threaded the ball between the lines to soon-to-score Sarr.
Deeney is always going to be considered a center-forward/striker. However, in the latter stages of his career, he can be most effectively utilized in an advanced midfield role. This, for an aging striker like Deeney, is far from uncharted territory.
Rooney’s Later Years As A Number 10
Wayne Rooney provides the perfect blueprint for Deeney to follow. The new Derby County manager, who has scored over 300 career goals, was able to extend his career, with considerable success, by dropping into the number 10 role.
In Rooney’s first 10 years with Manchester United, he played almost exclusively as a forward. Like Deeney, the 35-year-old’s career was primarily characterized by the number of goals he scored. Forgetting to mention his assist tally, however, would be misleading. Rooney averaged 1.9 goals scored per assist. Deeney averages 2.3 goals scored per assist in his career. As a point of reference, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has a career ratio of 2.6 goals scored per assist.
In Rooney’s final three years with the Red Devils, his role changed. In the 2014/15 campaign, Rooney played an equal number of matches at center-forward as he did in the attacking-midfield position. As a number 10 that season, he scored five times and assisted three times in 16 appearances. In the 2016/17 campaign, Rooney only played 14 of 39 matches as a true, out-and-out center-forward.
After his return to Everton and his MLS journey, Rooney played his final full season with Derby County. In 24 appearances last campaign, not once did Rooney play beyond the midfield.
Deeney Has Already Started The Advisable Replication
So, even though Rooney’s ability to be a formidable force as a center-forward started to go away as he aged, he was still able to be effective by inching toward the middle of the pitch. His years of experience, football intelligence, and leadership capabilities made the center of the midfield the best position for him to make an impact.
Deeney will still line up as a center-forward for the foreseeable future. However, as seen against Stoke, Deeney can best be utilized when he temporarily drops into the advanced parts of the midfield. Even if Deeney is no longer the goalscoring machine he used to be, his role in the squad is near impossible to replicate.
Deeney is criticized a lot for his goalscoring record. It is time to no longer consider him exclusively as a goal-scorer. Rooney was never slated near the end of his career because of his decrease in goals.
The present is the perfect time for Deeney to follow in Rooney’s footsteps.
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