In David Moyes’ press conference before Manchester United’s weekend fixture with Aston Villa, it was revealed that Robin van Persie, who was only just back from a groin injury, would be ruled out for a month after sustaining a thigh strain during his brief return.
It was a massive blow for the Red Devils but Danny Welbeck’s performance at Villa Park showed that not only does he offer United a replacement for the Dutchman, but he gives them a new dimension as well. Welbeck for Van Persie is hardly a like-for-like switch though as both strikers are poles apart.
Van Persie is precise about everything he does, every touch oozes class, he’s highly intelligent with his movement, links up play exquisitely and is a ruthless finisher. Welbeck on the other hand is the perfect physical specimen for a lone striker. He’s strong, quick, works very hard and is good in the air.
However, his first touch is often clumsy, he’s invariably off-balance when shooting which sees him miss some great chances and he doesn’t quite have the same range of passing or vision to play in others. Fortunately, with Wayne Rooney playing in the hole behind him while the wingers push forward, Welbeck is actually a potent weapon up front.
From Rooney’s positioning in the game against Villa, it was evident that Welbeck’s mobility, work-rate and strength as the lone striker, allowed United’s number 10 to drop deeper and feature more prominently in midfield.
If Rooney were to drop off that much when playing with Van Persie or Javier Hernandez, they would be isolated and could go missing for long periods in the game. But Welbeck has the legs to drag defenders wide, run in behind and chase down every ball while also being able to hold up the ball well.
The other two strikers need to link up with Rooney in order to flourish but Welbeck’s ability to cause problems on his own effectively gave United’s midfield a massive boost. With Paul Scholes never being replaced and Michael Carrick injured, United have desperately lacked a playmaker in midfield.
Rooney’s ability to drop into the middle of the park and spray long-diagonal passes out wide against Villa served to compensate for United’s lack of a midfielder capable of making those passes and driving the team forward. Meanwhile, the wingers had a big part to play as well.
Adnan Januzaj and Antonio Valencia pushed forward in support of Welbeck. Valencia in particular, aided by the bombing runs of Rafael, sent in plenty of crosses for the young English international while Januzaj drifted inside and popped up in the space behind Welbeck when Rooney was positioned deeper.
United’s 4-4-1-1 effectively transformed into a 4-3-3 and afforded them more control of the ball and thereby the game. They looked far more formidable at the back as well with Rooney strengthening their core in midfield and the young central defensive partnership of Phil Jones and Jonny Evans marshaling the back four.
In Van Persie’s absence, the combination of Rooney and Welbeck could serve United well, the same duo Roy Hodgson seemed to prefer for England until Daniel Sturridge started plundering goals at Liverpool. That knack for scoring goals is precisely what’s been lacking in Welbeck’s game and why he’s been used as a wide player more often than as a striker.
“The name of the game is goals [as a striker]. Whether you score all your goals from outside the box or whether you score them from inside, you have to get them.” – David Moyes
Welbeck’s brace against Villa was the first time he got on the score sheet this season since United’s opening day win away to Swansea City, when he scored twice there as well. You have to concede though that he perhaps would get more goals if he was regularly played as a striker.
If Welbeck can begin scoring at a reasonable rate when afforded the chance, he could go from being an alternative to a viable option for United in attack. Being a Mancunian and an academy graduate, the club are desperate to see Welbeck succeed and it’s up to him to take full advantage of the opportunity presented to him at the moment.
|Can Welbeck improve his goal scoring record? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.|
How do you stay up with football when on the move? With http://m.goal.com –your best source for mobile coverage of the beautiful game.