LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 06: Robin van Persie of Arsenal looks on dejected at the final whistle during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg match between Arsenal and AC Milan at Emirates Stadium on March 6, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Manchester United’s ambition has not only come into question because of the lack of investment on a world class central midfielder to replace the elegant Paul Scholes, but also because of the lack of stars they have attracted since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure. The arrival of Robin van Persie, who was the best striker in the Barclay’s Premier League last season and current holder of the PFA Player of the Year award, has silenced critics. This does come as a surprise to many fans, mainly because it is not imperative that United needed to strengthen their strike force.
United lost the title last season on goal difference, so it is perfectly understandable that Sir Alex Ferguson would turn his attention to a proven goal scorer. Manchester City have quality in abundance in their locker room of talented, yet controversial, strikers: Sergio Agüero, Carlos Tévez, Mario Balotelli, and Edin Džeko (the prominent weak-link) combined were more prominent and potent than the likes of Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernández, and Dimitar Berbatov. City can boast that they have a versatile bunch, with the exception of the Bosnian, whereas United versatile strikers are only Rooney and Welbeck, who was rarely used out of position.
It is somewhat peculiar that Van Persie would be signed ahead of a midfielder or a much needed left back. Talk has arisen that this is all some plot to ensure that United fans enter a content state and forget about the Glazers. A big-money signing does tend to obscure the different views that were apparent before the signing was made. Could this all be an attempt to overshadow what is really going on behind the scenes? United fans are not naive, and a few articles have emerged, after the signing was made, discussing the usual hot topic: The Glazers. The Dutchman’s arrival is irrelevant to what is going on within the club.
In favour of Van Persie’s arrival at Manchester United, one could say that Welbeck was not clinical enough in front of goal. Whilst he brought about certainty and assurance regarding his hold-up play, link-up, passing, positional awareness, and movement, his finishing was poor. With time, there will be more composure involved when he is faced with placing the ball at the back of the net, and he could recuperate a cool head. The Dutchman could be the missing piece to revamp the England international’s finishing.
Onto the more important aspect: Which formation will be deployed? The current 4-2-3-1 (or 4-4-1-1) that United use will no doubt be put into effect this season. Rooney is the favourite to play behind Van Persie, but one of the other new arrivals, Shinji Kagawa, is more intelligent than Rooney as an attacking midfielder. Last season, as the season slowly progressed, Rooney struggled to find his feet, which resulted to his passing becoming increasingly sloppier and more meager performances. Also, at times, he could not fill the gap between midfield and his own position. Evidently, this caused problems. This was clearly conveyed against Wigan away from home, where Hernández was virtually receiving little service.
Another possibility could be a 4-4-2, with Rooney and Van Persie playing side-by-side. Whilst the idea looks good on paper, the lack of an orchestrating attacking midfielder could hinder United’s play. Kagawa will definitely add the element of fluidity, ensuring that we will see more play down the middle. The possibilities are endless, in essence.
Without any doubt, Van Persie will benefit off the service from Nani, Antonio Valencia, and Ashley Young. More often than not, Van Persie makes intelligent runs into the box, peeling off his man-marker with ease, and finishing off exquisitely. He is endowed with great technique, so we should see him setting up a good number of goals, too. At Arsenal, Van Persie was surrounded by Gervinho, who struggled to find his feet in the second half of the season, and the inconsistent Theo Walcott. United’s wingers, with the exception of Young, Nani and Valencia are considerably better. Both offer great service, and even though the Portuguese international can have his indecisive moments, he is still capable of producing gorgeous balls into the box.
The final piece in Fergie’s formation is a striker that can assist and score. An excessive amount of money was spent on Berbatov, and he was expected to drive the team forward with his perfect technique. Things did not go to plan, but with Van Persie there is more enthusiasm and you know you are going to get hard working shifts from him. As soon as the ball is at his feet, he does not dwell on it for too long, and uses his intelligence to make the right move, there is more conviction when he passes the ball and even when he takes a shot.
One major problem, however, is that Van Persie might not flourish under Fergie’s system. At Arsenal, he was the focal point, the majority of attacks were directed towards the Dutchman, and it was one of the main reasons why he scored many goals. At United, there are different creative outlets. There are direct players and dynamic ones, in other words – he will not be the main man, so he will have to be patient. That being said, a player of his immense quality will score just as much.
One thing is for certain – Van Persie will be an integral figure. Of course, his injury record does not connect well with the transfer fee United have paid, but based on the last two years, the transfer fee seems reasonable. He seems to have washed himself clean of injuries, but the fear is that he will received an injury, which will leave him out for a substantial period. There were times last season where United were destitute of firepower. The blame cannot be put entirely on Rooney’s shoulders, as he was slotted in behind the lone striker. With Van Persie, there should be no excuse for a lack of goals.
Manchester City have made one signing: Jack Rodwell. Roberto Mancini is apparently concerned over the lack of transfers, but Tévez feels like a new signing. When fit and hungry, he is one of the league’s best strikers. However, Mancini will be concerned with the prominent signings United have made. A statement of intent has been made: United are not going to settle for second best.