Everyone around the footballing world was amazed by Robin Van Persie’s performance last season and he was held as the best striker in the league by opposition fans as well as his own. After winning the golden boot many will expect him to walk into the United first team as an everpresent, but will it be that simple?
Wayne Rooney may have something to say about that. In the clutter of the summer, many seem to have forgotten that he had his best goal tally ever last season. For years now he’s been a guaranteed starter in the side, not even half-torn ligaments kept him out against Bayern Munich in the second leg of our 2010 Champions League quarter final.
Of course, Van Persie’s favorite position is leading the line and as Rooney was deployed last season as more of a support striker, they can certainly play together. Last season, Sir Alex might have favoured a partnership of Welbeck and Rooney but there is every chance that we’ll play Van Persie and Rooney alongside each other, health permitting.
But considering the trouble we had away in Europe playing with two strikers, and in some of the bigger away games, I expect we’ll see Sir Alex deploy five midfielders more often – a formation that has become synonymous with United in Europe. In recent years we’ve played with a lone striker to great success. Many hailed this change of formation in big away games as the difference between United making it out of difficult European ties and the unsuccessful campaigns of the early 2000s.
We shouldn’t forget that Wayne Rooney’s scoring ratio was actually better than Van Persie’s last season, and that’s without playing as the lead striker. It’s fair to say he could score even more if he was put up top and that has to be a big temptation for Sir Alex this season especially with Kagawa slotting effortlessly into the hole, which would allow Rooney to stay further up the pitch.
In the 2011-12 season, Wayne had 44 appearances and 35 goals, giving him 0.80 goals per game. Van Persie scored two more goals but needed four more appearances to do it, giving himself a 0.77 goals per game average.
In fact these two player’s scoring exploits have followed somewhat similar paths since Van Persie and Rooney joined Arsenal and United respectively in 2004. Since then, Van Persie has scored 132 goals at 0.48 goals per game while Wayne collected 182 goals at 0.49 goals per game.
In their last four seasons, Van Persie has collected 89 goals at 0.62 goals per game and Rooney has had 105 goals at 0.59 goals per game Though Wayne has certainly had less injury trouble, and thus more often available to help his team, when on the pitch their goal contributions have been quite similar.
So who do we choose to play up top in the big away games if we play five in midfield? Do we ask Rooney to play on the wing or ask him to play as a central midfielder? Will Van Persie end up sitting for the big games, or playing on the wing? Will the desire to play them both tempt Sir Alex to continue to play two strikers in our toughest games?
All these questions remain. It is the kind of problem you want to have in your squad. Robin van Persie has four weeks now to stake his claim to the starting spot and Wayne Rooney will certainly have to improve his fitness if he wants to be the first name on the team sheet on his return from injury.