Robin van Persie
|Passes (% accurate)||21/24 (88%)|
|Shots (on target)||7 (3)|
|Crosses (completed)||3 (2)|
|Take-ons (successful)||3 (1)|
For the first week of this new column the last thing I wanted to do was make a predictable choice for EPL player of the week, but it was impossible to ignore another brilliant performance by a supremely gifted player. A 1-4 defeat was harsh on a Swansea team who played some nice football, but Robin van Persie was the difference between the two sides.
So what makes Robin so super? For a start, his game on Saturday showed just how adept he is at holding the ball up. He is not a physically intimidating striker, in the mould of Didier Drogba or Christian Benteke, but his constant movement, technique and footballing brain means that he is able to receive the ball in space, hold off his markers and bring teammates into play. In the early stages, when Swansea were dominating possession, this ability was key for United in order to take a foothold in the game. van Persie dropping deep and picking up the ball, and his continual pivoting and turning away from trouble, meant that Ashley Williams and Chico were frequently unable to win the ball back cheaply from him. Despite playing up top alone, with a sea of defenders around him, he was able complete an impressive 88% of his passes.
But his hold-up play is not his most prized asset, indeed his elusiveness in the area and his finishing ability is what makes him arguably the world’s greatest striker at this moment. In the oppositions penalty box he never stops moving; going forwards, backtracking, attacking the ball, dropping off; all of these actions keeps defenders guessing and often results in them losing the Dutchman when they should be marking him. This means he almost always has opportunities to score in a game, and here was no difference as he attempted seven shots. His first effort was in the 15th minute when he backtracked and ghosted away from Williams to meet Patrice Evra’s cross, but was unable to get sufficient power on his header to beat Michel Vorm. In the 36th minute Swansea did pay the price for not picking up the forward, his stop start movement again meant that he was able to escape Williams and win a header. This drew Ben Davies in from left back to try and cover him, allowing an unmarked Antonia Valencia to square for Danny Welbeck to score.
As well as playing a part in the second goal, he scored his 33rd and 34th goals for United with some typical clinical finishing. For his first goal, despite having two centre-backs to deal with, he again found space by playing on the shoulder of the defender. Ryan Giggs’s deflected through ball left him with a lot to do, but he concentrated well amongst a posse of defenders to control with his chest and finish excellently with an acrobatic kick. In the 72nd minute he killed off the game with his second goal to make it 3-0, once again evading the two centre backs before rocketing the ball into the top corner from the edge of the area, having been aided by smart runs from Welbeck and Wayne Rooney.
Robin van Persie is a striker who has it all. Not only is he dangerous when his team has the ball, but is also useful when his team are not in possession. Examples of this being him tracking back to pressure midfielder José Cañas in the 72nd minute, and chasing a long David De Gea punt forward into the far left corner of the pitch in the 76th minute, forcing Chico into a mistake. Such contributions don’t show up in stats, but make all the difference on the pitch.Unbelievably his stat sheet may have been even glossier had Giggs and Evra made the most of potential goal-scoring opportunities awarded to them by van Persie; but regardless of this, the Dutchman showed that both he and Manchester United will not be giving up their EPL crown easily this season.