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While the Liverpool duo have proved to be the perfect foil for each other, tearing defences apart, the Manchester United strikers are operating on worryingly different wavelengths

ANALYSIS
By Ewan Roberts

En route to Premier League glory last season, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie together netted 38 goals – attacking firepower that was then unmatched in England's top-flight. But while the Manchester United duo's relationship has deteriorated, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have burgeoned into the dominant force in the division.

The Liverpool frontmen, who visit Old Trafford on Sunday, have already netted 42 times this season, occupying first and second spot in the scoring charts. It used to be Rooney and Van Persie who finished each other's sentences and drew envious glances, now they are heading towards divorce while the Anfield outfit's devilishly clinical SAS steamroller opponents.

What has become increasingly clear is that Rooney and Van Persie are two separate entities, loosely compatible strikers that merely play for the same club and inhabit the same attacking unit, so often passing by like strangers on a train – or, as was the case against West Brom, tumbling into one another in a pratfall that might have been amusing were it not so tragic.

Sturridge and Suarez, though, are a partnership, a marriage of movement that blend and work for each other and mimic the unity, telepathy and tethered talent of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, whose pass-and-move goal against Barcelona at Camp Nou in the 1998-99 season remains the very zenith of what a strike partnership can and should be.

UNITED STRIKEFORCE?

ROONEY & VAN PERSIE'S PL SEASON SO FAR
MINUTES PLAYED TOGETHER
TOTAL GOALS
TOTAL ASSISTS
ASSISTS FOR EACH OTHER
CHANCES CREATED FOR EACH OTHER
PASSES TO EACH OTHER
MINS PER PASS TO EACH OTHER
1068
22
13
4
10
100
10.68
The breakdown in Rooney and Van Persie's dynamic, if it ever truly existed, has been most obvious in recent weeks – and may or may not have coincided with the former's new bumper deal which made him the club's highest earner, and main man, once more. The signs began against Stoke at the start of February, as Van Persie made just three passes to his strike partner, all of which were from kick-off.

More recently, in yet another low point of United's season against Olympiakos, the Netherlands international found Rooney with just one solitary pass – which, inevitably, was from kick-off. Since losing at the Britannia, 28.2 per cent of all passes between Van Persie and Rooney have been from the restart, and they have laid on just two chances for each other.

Over the same period, Sturridge and Suarez have a significantly more active partnership; their 9.2 passes per game represents a 41.5% increase on the Roooney-Van Persie combination (with only 10.8% of those from kick-off) while they have created nine chances for each other in just five games.

Across the season as a whole, the Anfield duo have made 28% more passes to each other than United's two forwards, averaging fewer minutes per pass (their 8.8 minutes per link-up is the best among the Premier League's established strike partnerships), and created a total of 24 chances for their wingman (split exactly 50/50) compared to just 10 for Rooney and Van Persie (split 70/30).

Liverpool's SAS work in harmony, always showing a tremendous awareness of each other's whereabouts, and while Sturridge still has occasional blips of blinkered selfishness, his presence and intelligence has brought out the best in Suarez and underlined the Uruguayan's brilliantly selfless play. Both clearly perform better when partnered by the other, though that is perhaps no longer true of their United counterparts.

UNSTOPPABLE SAS

SUAREZ & STURRIDGE'S PL SEASON SO FAR
MINUTES PLAYED TOGETHER
TOTAL GOALS
TOTAL ASSISTS
ASSISTS FOR EACH OTHER
CHANCES CREATED FOR EACH OTHER
PASSES TO EACH OTHER
MINS PER PASS TO EACH OTHER
1130
42
15
6
24
128
8.83
At the Hawthorns, the champions, and Rooney, looked at their best after Van Persie had been withdrawn and replaced by the leggy Danny Welbeck. The 23-year-old ran the channels, stretched play and created space for his England colleague.

In turn, Rooney played four times as many passes to Welbeck as he had in 68 minutes to Van Persie, created two scoring opportunities – one of which resulted in a goal – and netted himself, thanks partly to a distracting near-post run made by the substitute. In fact, five of Rooney's 11 Premier League strikes have come while Welbeck has been on the field, despite sharing relatively little pitch time.

There are, of course, caveats. First and foremost, Van Persie has cut a forlorn figure, reportedly unsettled at United - despite his latest protestations - and hampered by a string of injuries and niggles that have interrupted his season.

Moreover, David Moyes' rather limited tactics – notably a mind-boggling volume of crosses, which peaked at an astonishing 81 against Fulham – do not play to either striker's strengths and have reduced the interplay permitted between them. Last season, it should be noted, the United pair passed to each other every 7.95 minutes, which is more frequent than Sturridge and Suarez this season.

Unlike Moyes, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has adapted his own philosophy and ditched his obsession with possession, thus granting his forward line the freedom to play more direct, attacking football and allowing his deadly strike duo the opportunity to eviscerate teams.

When United play host to Liverpool and the headline-grabbing SAS, not only could it serve to underline how far Rooney and Van Persie, as a duo, have fallen, but also as a warning of how quickly a strike partnership can breakdown.

Barely a year ago, the Dutch forward was latching onto a long, raking pass from Rooney to rifle a left-footed volley past Aston Villa's Brad Guzan to seal the Premier League title. Van Persie immediately praised the vision of his team-mate, who was then disgruntled and eyeing a move away from Old Trafford, and remarked that, "it doesn't matter who scored, as long as we win".

Such platitudes flow off the tongue after a trophy-winning hat-trick, but when the goals dry up they are replaced by dejected shrugs and under-the-breathe frustration. Suarez was notably irked during a personal barren run despite Liverpool netting 13 times without his goals, and, with strikers occupying a spotlight not normally designed for sharing, it does not take much to throw the precarious balance of a strike partnership off kilter.

*Statistics provided by Opta

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