Wayne Rooney tactical analysis: Derby County
Wayne Rooney speaking to Sky Sports | GettyImages

Derby County have some big problems currently, after narrowly avoiding relegation they are in big financial trouble and remain 'at war' with The EFL. On a slightly lighter note though, heres a look at the style of play implemented by Wayne Rooney and comparing it to former Derby managers.

Wayne Rooney Tactical Analysis 

Rooney took charge of Derby following Phillip Cocu's sacking in late 2020, The Rams sat bottom of The EFL Championship as the former Manchester United forward took sole charge of the club on an interim basis. He took the side on a good run under the circumstances, six games unbeaten and earned four clean sheets on the bounce - the first time Derby had achieved this since Gary Rowett's tenure in 2018.

Many were shocked at the appointment and in truth it was very risky, but they got away with it by the skin of their teeth. The form faltered in late February and they won just one out of their last 15 fixtures. Derby lacked any real identity and going forwards were nothing short of terrible, they ended the season as the lowest top scorers in the league, yet against all odds managed to score three against Sheffield Wednesday on the final game of the season. In dramatic circumstances, Derby survived.

There were many problems at Derby though and they seemed to follow the poor form, an EFL battle and unpaid players make it difficult to criticise Rooney too heavily. Though few, there were also positive signs from last season that could suggest improvement next year, Derby were the lowest scorers but also the third biggest underachievers based on expected goals. Their xG was -12 meaning that based on chances created should have scored 12 more goals, they also conceded three more than they 'should have' this would have left Derby in a much healthier position and suggests they should have a better season next year.

It's difficult to judge Rooney's tactics and football ideology as he is yet to be backed in a transfer window. However, we are just two games into pre season and it's clear that Rooney is trying to implement more identity and tactical changes to Derby's system as I'll show this here to references against Salford City and Manchester United.

Derby's full backs were generally very important for them last season with Nathan Byrne standing out in an attacking capacity, only Emiliano Buendia and Harvey Elliot created more big chances than the right back last season, it must be noted that these other two players are wingers; making this an extraordinary statistic for a full back in a team that struggled as much as they did. This was likely the motivation behind 'Derby's revolving door full back system' in the 4-2-3-1, the defensive midfielders rotate with the full backs once possession is won, this allows quick counter attacks with full backs overlapping the wingers, thus allowing the more influential attacking players to advance up the pitch and have a bigger impact. Below is an example of this in action against Manchester United 

Graeme Shinnie fills void at full back | Ryan Conway
Graeme Shinnie fills void at full back | Ryan Conway | MUTV

This is how the system works defensively but the dynamism and width it adds to Rooney's frontline is very different as one or two of the attacking line will drop deeper to collect loose balls and start play, this has most commonly been Ravel Morrison with him often coming deep to dictate play and start things. This sequence worked well against United again, when Nathan Byrne crossed to Tom Lawrence who had a huge chance to score an equaliser with a header, it also led to the goal at Salford when Craig Forsyth's cross was turned in at the back post. Here is how it looks in a graphic from and shows increase in attacking options. 

Derby's attacking system graphic / Jake Barker
Derby's attacking system graphic / Jake Barker

Gary Rowett 

The 44 year-old joined Derby mid way through the season, taking over from Steve McClaren with The Rams sat mid table and after a big drop off in performances, some felt this was unfair at the time. Former Derby defender, Rowett was his replacement, he was fairly new to management but was successful in spells at Burton Albion and Birmingham City.

In his first full and what turned out to be only season with Derby, Rowett's side reached the play offs, however his side were vastly critiqued through the season for their style of play and reliance on Curtis Davies and Matej Vydra, who won the golden boot with 21 goals. This was fully suported in the underlying statistics; Derby set up with the purpose of being strong defensively and setting up a low block in some occasions, they did this very successfully earning the third most clean sheets in the league and the third least goals conceded. Goalkeeper Kelle Roos also faced the second least shots in the league, a huge testament to their defending.

Derby's style of play was clear for all to see, sit back and trust that they will shut out the opposition and then play on the counter attack, this was excellently suited to talisman Vydra with his pace and clinical finishing allowing him to excel under Rowett after a difficult spell with managers McClaren and Nigel Pearson. Nonetheless, Derby finished sixth but lost the play off semi final 2-1 to Fulham, after leading from the first game. Gary Rowett received mass criticism for his decisions, leaving top scorer Matej Vydra and creative midfielder Kasey Palmer on the bench in favour of more physical and defensive minded players. Rowett then left the club he described as his 'dream job' 12 months prior for Championship rivals Stoke City

Frank Lampard

After Rowett's departure the next man in line was Frank Lampard whose arrival was highly anticipated by all due to his links with Chelsea FC, potentially allowing Derby to lean on them for loanees. This expectation was delivered on with highly rated Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori joining on season long loans. Lampard's high profile also helped attract players such as Harry Wilson and Jack Marriott - players who proved pivotal in their promotion push. Lampard also blooded many young players, most notably Jayden Bogle - this helped lower the average age of Derby's squad as it was the oldest in the league before this window, he deserves huge credit for this.

Lampard's team was young and hardworking - in what is often described as the most exciting football at Pride Park in recent years but this was likely down the quality of individual players. The style of play was often very possession based under Lampard but it ended up working brilliantly. Wilson's superb long shot ability meant that opposition had to quickly close him down, this led to more space for midfield counterpart Mason Mount or when playing on the wing, Jayden Bogle. This explains why they led the assist charts for Derby with four and eight respectively. It was also interesting to see when The Rams went behind, they often went 'gung-ho' with a relentless siege of pressure.

This was seen most notably against Leeds United in the play-offs - Derby trailed 2-0 on aggregate with just 50 minutes to play. The substitution of Jack Marriott caused mayhem for Leeds and they just could not handle Derby's midfield. The Rams won 4-3 on aggregate to reach Wembley for the first time since their 2014 defeat. Psychologically, Derby went into this game in the wrong way and it was uncontrollable by Lampard and his players - at the time The Rams boss was being heavily linked with a move to Chelsea and this could have had a big impact on the squad as unfortunately it wasn't meant to be as Lampard's young team lost 2-1 to an excellent Aston Villa; although this game brought controversy again as we saw a similar managerial mistake to Rowett's defeat at Fulham - no recognised striker started for Derby in a truly baffling decision. Lampard then left the club to join Chelsea, the club he was heavily linked with before the play-off final.


Its hard to judge Wayne Rooney on his time as a manager as he has undoubtedly been dealt a bad hand. However I think that managers Frank Lampard and Gary Rowett (to a lesser extent) underperformed with their squads and hypothetically, Rooney could have done better with them as the statistics support and will have a more attractive style of play if backed in the transfer market.