Date:3rd September 2012 at 12:24am
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Van Persie - what a waste of money

Van Persie - what a waste of money

Manchester United’s season so far has been an up and down, panic inducing rollercoaster ride, and we are only three matches into the season. The match against Southampton was, it is safe to say, no different.

United began the match in complete control, with the first ten minutes or so seeing the team dominate possession with, as highlighted below, no discernible result. Southampton, backed by a fired up and passionate home crowd, began to work their way back into the game, and took the lead through Rickie Lambert’s powerful header, the striker towering over Rafael at the back post and nodding the ball past Anders Lindegaard. Southampton began to dominate, piling on the pressure and seeing a volley flash just past the post. However, the half ended with the scores tied at 1-1, with an excellent Robin van Persie volley levelling the scores.

The second half started with Southampton again on top, Schneiderlin restoring the Saints’ one goal advantage. For a long time in the second half, it seemed that United would lose their second game out of their first three, especially when Van Persie missed a penalty, with his arrogant chipped effort easily saved by Kelvin Davis.

However, with Paul Scholes now on the field, United began to assert dominance, applying concerted pressure to the Southampton goal, and eventually restoring parity through Van Persie’s 89th minute poacher’s finish after Ferdinand’s header rebounded off the post. United were level heading into added time, and with two minutes remaining the game seemed to be heading towards a draw, which would perhaps have been a fair result. Then Nani’s corner- for once beating the first man- arrowed into the near post, where it was met by Van Persie’s clever header. The three points were United’s, snatched right at the end. Football, bloody hell, I wish I’d backed us on when we were 2-1 down!

1. United’s possession without a point. 
In the first half, United enjoyed spells in which they dominated the ball yet created almost no goalscoring chances. The issue with United’s possession was that, quite simply, it generally had no purpose; United merely played from left to right and then, when pressured, back to Ferdinand or Vidic, before repeating the cycle. Eventually, United tried to force the issue, playing an aimless pass and conceding possession. Possession of the ball is not a bad thing- it at least stops the opposition from posing any threat- but the possession must have a purpose, and it was only when Paul Scholes replaced the largely ineffective Tom Cleverley that United began to make good use of the ball and launched the comeback that eventually won the three points.

2. Welbeck from the left does not work.
Danny Welbeck is a striker, and playing him on the left wing does not work. I recognise that with the four top class strikers now playing for the club, it is important for Sir Alex to give each of them playing time to ensure that sharpness is retained and to ensure that there is no dressing room unrest. However, playing Welbeck from the left tends not to work for United. Given that Welbeck is accustomed to playing through the centre, he was inclined to continually drift inside, leaving a general lack of width on the left and leading to a lack of cover for Patrice Evra. Another knock on effect of Welbeck’s tendency to drift inside was that it made the central areas of the pitch over crowded, restricting Kagawa’s already limited space and leaving almost no room for the Kagawa-Van Persie partnership to operate. Welbeck is a very good player and will only get better, but he should not play on the left wing for United.

3. Robin van Persie is a clinical finisher. 
This is not really something we ‘learnt’ from this match, as it’s been evident for a number of years, but Robin van Persie is a world class, lethal finisher. Yes, his penalty attempt was an arrogant one that was just begging to be saved, but his three goals, whilst different, were all excellent finishes. His first goal was scored with an excellent piece of chest control and a controlled volley into the bottom corner. His second was a poacher’s goal, following up after Rio Ferdinand’s header rebounded off the post. His third was a ‘backwards header’, not unlike Hernandez’s goal against Stoke in his debut season in English football (although not quite as spectacular or athletic). Van Persie could, in truth, have scored four or five, but he has already started to remind United fans of the world class finishing they saw last season, and his three excellent goals earned United the three points. He scores when he wants.

4. Lindegaard’s dodgy distribution
. Anders Lindegaard came into the United team for the game, replacing David de Gea, who dropped to the bench. Lindegaard has shown his class at various times, and it is clear that he is better equipped than De Gea to cope with the physical demands of English football. However, Lindegaard’s distribution is poor, especially when compared to his rival for the number one jersey. Several times, most noticeably in the first half, Lindegaard needlessly conceded possession with poor kicks or throws. Both of our goalkeepers have strengths and weaknesses, and this is certainly not an attack on Lindegaard, merely a statement that his distribution is the weakest part of his game and is an area that he needs to improve upon, fast.

5. United are vulnerable to crosses into the box. 
Reading Twitter during the match, I was struck by a particularly interesting statistic. This season, Manchester United have conceded five goals in three Premier League matches. Of those five goals, four have been conceded through the opposition’s use of an aerial ball. This seems to highlight a weakness in the air for United and a vulnerability to high balls played into and around the box. This cannot be attributed solely to David de Gea’s aerial weakness, since two of the goals were conceded against Southampton with Anders Lindegaard playing in goal. Rather, it could be that this statistic shows a newfound United weakness to a high ball into the box, something that arguably goes back to last season, with aerial vulnerability evident in the costly 4-4 draw with Everton and the 1-0 defeat in the Manchester derby.

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