By Tom McKeown
Robin van Persie did not enjoy the most fruitful afternoon on Sunday at Anfield, frequently cutting a lonely figure up front as Manchester United struggled to get a foothold in the game.
But with nine minutes to go, the 29-year-old showed just how important he already is to United, stepping up to the penalty spot to fire his side to victory over 10-man Liverpool after what had been a particularly anonymous afternoon leading the line.
But despite not making a massively meaningful contribution to the match, you could not fault the Netherlands international’s work rate. He was tireless and never let his head drop.
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Manchester United frequently show their metal in games when they do not play well, and still manage to grind out the unlikely victory. Van Persie’s grit on Sunday echoed the mantra of England’s most successful Premier League team as he drilled home the spot-kick despite a nervous wait to make it four league wins in a row for United.
With Wayne Rooney nearing a return from injury and fellow strikers Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck desperate for some game time, Van Persie has been under pressure to perform to keep his place. Five goals in as many games though have already seen him instantly become indispensable.
Eyebrows were raised at the £24 million paid by Sir Alex Ferguson for Van Persie, considering his age, proneness to injury and that he only had one year left on his Arsenal contract.
But when he fired in a sumptuous strike against Fulham for his first United goal last month, it already looked like Sir Alex had once again pulled off a masterstroke, and if Van Persie keeps hitting the scoresheet and winning games for the Red Devils the price-tag will be more than justified.
The problem for the United manager now is what to do when England star Rooney is ready to play.
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In the 26-year-old’s absence Sir Alex has switched the system and built it around Van Persie, utilising the talents of Nani, Valencia and Shinji Kagawa to link up with the Dutchman in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
United have a busy time ahead, facing fixtures in three competitions in seven days, and it will be up to the manager to choose to stick with the current system and rotate or revert to a two-striker format.
Any change to the system would be a brave move with United’s current run of form, and if Sir Alex does opt to keep things the way they are he faces quite the selection dilemma.
Any manager would find it difficult to drop a striker who is averaging a goal a game and Van Persie is already proving himself undroppable.
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