Striking comforts in a burden shared



There is a temptation in familiarity; to paint large brush strokes, to pigeon-hole, to find a box of mutual convenience. This is true of football, a sport in which punditry of the vanilla so dominates; perhaps more so than in any other mass cultural event. In this there can be no surprise that Manchester United’s summer signing, Dutchman Robin van Persie, has brought inevitable comparison with a compatriot of yesteryear.

It shouldn’t take the former Arsenal striker long to break out of this metaphorical confinement though, not in fashion that van Persie has begun his United career, with 11 goals in 15 games. For the record, it took Ruud van Nistelrooy 19 games to reach the same tally.

van Persie may not have scored in United’s 3-2 victory over Aston Villa on Saturday evening, but the 29-year-old did almost everything short – striking the bar with a bullet header, and then again with a fierce long-range drive in the second period. Indeed, while Javier Hernández saved United’s considerable blushes at Villa Park with a second-half hat-trick – dubious goals panel pending – it is van Persie who remains central to the Reds’ success or failure in the months ahead.

Fortune is a little short of the ideal expression given United’s lavish expenditure on the Dutchman, but Sir Alex Ferguson will certainly feel capricious – van Persie has been pivotal in the Scot’s team securing 16 points from losing positions this season.

“His confidence is just sky-high at the moment,” observes United veteran Ryan Giggs.

“I read last week that a lot of the players think he’s similar to Ruud in the respect that Ruud used to get a chance and more often than not he’d put them away. That’s the case with Robin at the minute; his confidence is high, we’re creating chances for him and he’s putting them away.”

van Persie, together with Wayne Rooney, and Hernández, must continue the pattern, especially given United’s woeful defending this season. It takes not a cynic to observe that Ferguson’s call for his team to score 100 Premier League goals this season may be short if his team continues to play in a fashion that invites goals at the other end. Villa Park was no exception.

Despite the tragic-comic nature of United’s defending Ferguson will feel comfort in Chicharito’s return to form in recent weeks. van Persie’s rapid integration into the Old Trafford scene had begun feel like a dependent relationship – and not of the mutual kind.

Goals spread around the side offers comfort, with Ferguson expecting more than 60 strikes between his leading men this season, as United seek to win from the front whatever the consequences at the back.

“I don’t think it’s a problem relying on Robin,” adds Ferguson. “The way Javier has started this season, I’m certain he will get to 20 goals plus. Wazza will get there too, he’ll get 20 goals plus I’m sure. It’s a healthy combination we’ve got there.”

Yet, it is van Persie who is now expected to strike against the very best in the months ahead – a burden bestowed not by his manager, but from the striker’s peers at Old Trafford. The Dutchman is now a lionised figure in a United dressing room packed with seasoned internationals.

“I think he’s great for the whole team; he’s our talisman,” admits Rooney, who had previously held that particular moniker. “He has a calmness about him. We have to try and get players around him.”

In Birmingham, on Saturday night, van Persie once again led United’s forward line effectively, although with little personal luck. On this occasion it mattered little as United came from two goals down to secure a four-point Premier League lead, with Hernández bringing a stunning conclusion to the game late in the second period.

United should never have been so troubled by a mediocre Villa side, but such is the way this season, with the Reds seemingly content to play every match as a cup tie of folklore.

“It reminded us of a cup game here a few years ago when we were 2-0 down,” said Ferguson of United’s latest victory comeback.

“I think van Nistelrooy scored a couple and we won 3-2. We were disappointed with the first-half performance, it has to be said. You had to give credit to Aston Villa, they never gave us a minute’s peace on the ball. When they got the second goal we were up against it, but once we scored our first goal, you always felt they were going to do it.”

United’s won’t “always do it” of course, not against domestic and European opponents of a higher quality. In that there is a salutary lesson; admirable though Ferguson’s commitment to attacking football is this campaign, there has rarely – if ever – been a successful side whose basic defensive make-up is so lacking.

No wonder Ferguson is relying on United’s spirit where technique and tactics is sometimes wanting. “The tenacity of our performance,” lauded Ferguson on Saturday, “was really brilliant.”

In this van Persie has also become pivotal. At Braga, in midweek, van Persie’s introduction reshaped – and refocused -  Ferguson’s side as United once again came from behind; during the second period at Villa the Dutchman’s movement proffered Hernández the space to fire the Reds back into the game.

There is a warning though. In Portugal United’s attacking play was blunt for an hour without the Dutchman. For all the inherent firepower, United may still need to find a way to score without the now talismanic forward.

Hernández’ impressive haul in the Midlands is certainly a positive start; the beginnings of a burden better shared.

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  • http://yahoo.com jelantik

    Its good players
    GGMU

  • ForeverRed

    Great article Ed. You’ve summarized it perfectly. The disappointing thing is that despite spending over 100M on players over the last couple is seasons (including Young, DDG, Jones, Bebe, Buttner, Kagawa and RvP), arguably only one of these – RvP – has improved our 1st XI. DDG will prove to be a good buy but was a necessary replacement for VdS rather than an improvement per se. Despite his talent, the jury’s out in my mind on how Kagawa is going to be a regular in the side with all the competing players for an AM role. (If only we had the same problem in DM!). Powell’s certainly one for the future, though likely faces the same issues as noted above for Kagawa at least for the next season or two. Jones possibly a future prospect, though not sure whose position he will take over. Young is an overpriced squad player and Buttner doesn’t look to have the defensive discipline to be Evra’s long term replacement. So, back to where I started this, we’ve brought in 8-10 players at a cost in excess of 100M, only one of whom has improved the starting 11. For the same money we could have got 3 or 4 players (defence, DM) with RvP’s class who would transform this side into serious CL contenders again. With a number of promising youth players coming through it’s not like we’ve needed to bring in a whole host of additional squad players with the money. It’s only when you see the difference an RvP, Cantona or Keane type player can make that you realize how much we’re missing them in some key positions.

    • Mongoletsi

      I think you’re being very harsh here; De Gea improved the 1st team, on the basis Van der Sar left. So strike him from the list (plus Lindegaard is a very decent keeper too).

      Kagawa looked pretty good at times; it’s patently absurd to dismiss him after a handful of games.

      You suggest Buttner lacks defensive discipline. How many games has he played? Enough to say he’s even worse than Evra?

      Most of the players you mention are “for the future”.

      Basically I think you’re being harsh.

      • ForeverRed

        I agree Mongoletsi that it is too soon to judge some of our recent recruits as they for the most part were bought with the future in mind. But that was the point of my post – improving the starting XI. Of the signings made, only RvP – and perhaps increasingly DDG who’s improving by the game – are nailed on starters. And the latter as you say is because VdS retired and thus a clear hole to fill (not a criticism, just fact). With the exception of Young (who is likely close to, or at his peak given age) all the recruits I mentioned are young and thus have potential to improve. But my point remains – of the money spent, only 2 of the 8 players would be automatic picks in most people’s first XI. Moreover, squad depth is not our problem; but lacking world class players in a couple of key positions is – if we wish to regain the European crown, which I believe should be our benchmark. So adding to an already large squad -with numerous talented youth players of our own -seems to me to have been at odds with our current priority.

        Finally on Kagawa, I really like what I’ve seen of him at Dortmund and would like to see more of him at Utd. All I’m saying is that we have numerous AMs / wingers and it’s tough to see Fergie playing him ahead of Rooney, who is basically currently playing in Kagawa’s best position. Add to that rotation of Ando, Giggs, Nani, Young, Powell, Cleverley who have all been played ostensibly as AMs or wide (not to forget Welbeck), along with constantly changing formations, and you can see it being tough for him (and some of the others I mentioned) to get a decent run of games. I truly hope we get to see the best of him, but fear he might end up being a decent squad player for Utd through no fault of his own. Of course, I hope I’m wrong as this would be a waste. This said, if we had a stronger midfield base I think it would suit Kagawa’s style far more, since defense is not the strong point of his own game, but at the moment this is where the team’s biggest issues lie.

  • Violent Banana

    A fully fit Vidic is what I want for Christmas.

  • Anantax

    Agree with post. Thankfully Hernandez seems to be regaining 1st season form…while RvP has been excellent, we cant over rely…

    The worry is of course defense or defensive midfield.

    2 points clear despite our shaky defense is nothing short of astoundingly delightful – I certainly didnt see that coming after the loss to Spurs! If we fix that defenseive somehow, either via Vidic or Fletcher or someone new, then we’ll really be in good shape to win the title…

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    Commenter said:
    Great article Ed. You’ve summarized it perfectly. The disappointing thing is that despite spending over 100M on players over the last couple is seasons (including Young, DDG, Jones, Bebe, Buttner, Kagawa and RvP), arguably only one of these – RvP – has improved our 1st XI. DDG will prove to be a good buy but was a necessary replacement for VdS rather than an improvement per se. Despite his talent, the jury’s out in my mind on how Kagawa is going to be a regular in the side with all the competing players for an AM role. (If only we had the same problem in DM!). Powell’s certainly one for the future, though likely faces the same issues as noted above for Kagawa at least for the next season or two. Jones possibly a future prospect, though not sure whose position he will take over. Young is an overpriced squad player and Buttner doesn’t look to have the defensive discipline to be Evra’s long term replacement. So, back to where I started this, we’ve brought in 8-10 players at a cost in excess of 100M, only one of whom has improved the starting 11. For the same money we could have got 3 or 4 players (defence, DM) with RvP’s class who would transform this side into serious CL contenders again. With a number of promising youth players coming through it’s not like we’ve needed to bring in a whole host of additional squad players with the money. It’s only when you see the difference an RvP, Cantona or Keane type player can make that you realize how much we’re missing them in some key positions.

    this is about right

    if buttner was bought to replace evra long term as apposed to being the blomqvist to evras giggs taggart is mental

    jones will be a centre half and captain

  • Leroy Cain

    i)Well, it’s a bloody good job RVP is superb and the Pea is in a rich vein of form because Rooney was bloody atrocious against Villa. Just as he seemed to be getting his mojo back and influencing games properly his rapist’s touch returned with a vengeance.

    ii)You would also think Ashley Young might be ‘up’ for a game against his former employers. Utterly woeful. Bloody hell, at this rate Giggs might still be our best bet on the left!

    iii)Can’t face discussing our central midfield: it’s a farce.

    iv)Cannot work out whether I find this current form exciting or depressing… It’s certainly sending my blood pressure through the roof.

  • marlon

    Rooney out of Eng squad with his injury and now van Persie out of Dutch squad with a thigh injury. Time for the defence to step up.

    • Mongoletsi

      // Rooney out of Eng squad with his injury //

      Don’t tell me you weren’t expecting that! I bet he’s back playing a few days later ;)

      • http://facebook.com/reddevilinaz RedDevilInAz

        Same statement for v. Persie, international friendlies are just a nuisance and only serve to fill the coffers of the FA and try out young talent.