At the beginning of the season, Manchester United fans were awash with hope that we would be provided with attacking football at levels not seen since the days of Cristiano Ronaldo. Questions were not framed around how many goals would be scored; rather, we wondered how Louis van Gaal would fit each attacking option in the starting eleven.
As it stands now, however, we are left scratching our heads at Angel Di Maria’s midseason dip in form, Wayne Rooney’s seemingly important status as a midfielder, and Radamel Falcao’s inability to look half the player he was when he terrorised defences across Europe.
One player who has also looked a shadow of his former self is Robin van Persie. The Dutchman leads United in goals yet he has struggled to find the form that endeared us to him in Sir Alex’s last season. United fans have been quick to jump on van Persie, calling for him to be dropped instead of Falcao. The Colombian’s anemic performance in the FA Cup fixture versus Preston North End caused some to strengthen their calls for Falcao to be dropped, but some still hold out faith he can become the world-class goal scorer again.
Falcao, however, is no longer a viable option. James Wilson’s youth and inexperience may prove a little too much to overcome to be a consistent threat for this season at least. Robin van Persie, on the other hand, still possesses the skills and capability to make a return to a world-class level. Consider this a defence of Van Persie.
First of all, it is important to understand the mental exhaustion Van Persie has dealt with over the past couple years. After Van Persie’s phenomenal first season in a United shirt, Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement caught the football world off-guard. Needless to say, the dressing room took Ferguson’s retirement the hardest. It is also well-known that Van Persie was especially shaken by Ferguson’s announcement.
Van Persie was then marginalised under David Moyes’ reign and was clearly not enjoying his football. It brought a smile the faces of United supporters worldwide seeing Van Persie’s happiness during Ryan Giggs’ brief spell in charge. Van Persie then enjoyed a successful but exhausting World Cup where he scored arguably the goal of the tournament. It was a whirlwind couple of seasons. A drop off in Van Persie’s level of play was too be expected. If there is anything we have learned from Van Persie’s tenure in the Premier League, it is to take the brilliant with the inconsistent spells. Is there any reason to believe Van Persie cannot return his previous form?
Secondly, Van Persie simply has not gotten the necessary service this season. When given service, Van Persie can excel like no other forward in the game. Take, for example, his recent goal against Leicester City. A deft little chip from Daley Blind unlocked the defense and Van Persie struck the ball brilliantly into the net. He has shown flashes, unlike Falcao, of the ability to return to his previous greatness.
It also must be pointed out that van Persie has not played with a natural partner this season. Falcao and Van Persie are simply too similar to play up front together. Despite both being two of the best forwards in the world at one point in time, their styles of play do not complement one another. Rooney must be moved from his midfield position back up top to partner with Van Persie. The two have shown that when paired together, they can form a lethal combination.
It may be the successful partnership of Rooney and Van Persie that takes Manchester United back to the top four and European football.