In Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season in charge at Old Trafford, his Manchester United side who were by no means one of the classic squads the Scotsman had assembled during his time in management, went on to win an unprecedented twentieth league title. When looking back, it’s fair to say that there were several reasons which ultimately led to the Premier League trophy returning to the red half of Manchester, however one reason was much more blatant than any other; Robin van Persie.

The signing of the former Arsenal striker, who was top goal-scorer during the 2011/12 campaign, was a sensational statement of intent by Manchester United as they aimed to prise back the beloved crown from their Manchester rivals and this evidently proved the difference come May when Sir Alex Ferguson lifted the trophy for one last time as he took a final bow in front of a packed Theatre of Dreams.

However without Robin van Persie, who netted 26 league goals last season on his way to retaining the Golden Boot; just how would the Red Devils have been positioned this time last year and how does it compare with their current low position?

After 22 league games were played last campaign, Manchester United were a mouth-watering seven points clear at the summit of the table with Manchester City clinging to their coattails. Although despite this very healthy league position many were aware that, excluding the Dutch striker and one or two others within the squad, Manchester United were nowhere near the calibre of the Manchester United of old. Up to this point of the season (13th January 2013), Robin van Persie had won 20 points with pivotal performances which included a hat-trick at Southampton, a goal after just three minutes against his former Arsenal team-mates and a last minute winner at the Etihad against Manchester City.

One of Manchester United’s major problems this season has been the fitness of their star striker. Van Persie has featured on just 11 occasions so far this season in the league, leaving a massive dent in the Red’s striking power and therefore their title credentials. If the points won by the 30-year-old from the beginning of the last campaign to January 13th 2013 were subtracted from Manchester United’s points tally under Sir Alex Ferguson, at the equivalent stage last year, United would have been in eighth position with 33 points.

Does it sound familiar? The current Premier League season is 22 games old and David Moyes’ Manchester United are placed seventh with 37 points. Van Persie’s goals so far this campaign have seen his side gain six points and therefore without this contribution, United would be in eighth place with 31 points; almost identical to what they would have been last season.

The point being made here is that Manchester United’s horrific start to this season is not down to David Moyes’ lack of managerial know-how; it’s due to the majority of his squad simply not being good enough. The form of Robin van Persie during the previous campaign which was in a word, phenomenal, painted over the cracks at Old Trafford and simply prolonged the expiry date of this current flock of players.

Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney have been in and out of the side due to injury since Moyes has taken over at the helm, however Van Persie’s campaign has been plagued with injury and the Dutchman has failed to string a significant amount of consecutive games together. These players must all get back to full fitness and remain that way for Moyes’ side to have any chance of chasing down the top four and be drawn once again amongst Europe’s elite next season.

By Michael Jordan

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