On Friday within the space of a few hours two of all United fans’ fears were realised. Firstly we were drawn against the seemingly unstoppable Bayern Munich in the quarter finals of the Champions League, only for it to be confirmed a couple of hours later that Robin Van Persie will miss the tie and faces 4-6 weeks out with the knee injury sustained in his match winning performance against Olympiakos. While initially I was devastated with the RVP news, after having a couple of days to reflect I think it actually presents Moyes with an interesting opportunity. That is to play a couple of key players in their favoured and perhaps best positions.
Last Wednesday night aside, Van Persie has been a shadow of the player that fired United to their 20th title last season. In recent weeks he’s looked disinterested, slow and has offered little in the attacking third. While he has come out to state he is happy at the club and wants to commit beyond his current contract, few could argue that his performances and body language have suggested otherwise.
Last season much was written about Van Persie’s strike partnership with Wayne Rooney. The belief during Van Persie’s absence through injury before Christmas was that once the pair were reunited in the starting XI, the fortunes of the team and Moyes would begin to turn. This hasn’t been the case. The partnership hasn’t kicked on and statistics of the number of passes exchanged between the two have been discussed to death in recent weeks.
Moyes now has the chance to give Wayne Rooney a run of games in his favoured No 9 role with either Juan Mata or Shingi Kagawa operating in the much coveted No 10 position. While Mata certainly hasn’t been operating as a winger since his record breaking move from Chelsea, he perhaps hasn’t been afforded as much time centrally as he would like with Rooney in the trequartista role. Mata was often isolated against Liverpool and devoid of ideas with the lack of movement ahead of him. With Mata cup tied in Europe Shinji Kagawa may be given the opportunity to step into the position which saw him excel in the Bundesliga for two seasons. I struggle to remember seeing a United team as lacking in pace as the one humbled by Liverpool last week. Enter Danny Welbeck. Against Olympiakos, Welbeck’s speed stretched the Greek’s defence, creating space for his teammates and allowing United to get in behind their back four. Now we come to Wayne Rooney. His two best seasons in a Manchester United shirt came in 2009/2010 and 2011/2012 when he operated in the No9 role, each season scoring 34 goals in all competitions.
Against West Ham on Saturday, United looked more fluid and quick on the counter attack than they have in recent months with RVP leading the line. In the Ferguson era United were renowned for their devastating counter attack, a quality that has been evidently absent during Moyes’ tenure. One must wonder, with the acquisition of Mata and Rooney’s new deal, does Moyes see that axis as his best attacking option. The next few weeks should provide some evidence, for or against.