As the Red Devils gear up for a trip down south to face League Two side Cambridge United in the F.A. Cup this Friday, there’s one man who could use a start more than any other player. I’m talking of course about Radamel Falcao, the £265,000 per week loan signing that, according to Louis van Gaal, still needs to prove himself as worthy of a spot in the starting eleven.
Having almost surely conceded too many points to challenge for the Premier League crown this season, United have shifted their attention to the F.A. Cup, a tournament which the team has oddly not won since the ’03-04 season. And if the game against Yeovil Town in the last round of the tournament was any indication, van Gaal will most likely field a starting eleven consisting primarily, if not entirely, of first team regulars. The starting eleven roster sheet will hopefully include Falcao’s name – an inclusion the Colombian hit-man could certainly use to bolster his confidence and get back to his old scoring ways.
We all know that during the last few seasons, Falcao has been one of the most feared strikers in the world. After tearing his ACL in the middle of last season, El Tigre was forced to miss the 2014 World Cup and instead focused on his rehabilitation, declaring himself to be perfectly fit prior to the start of the ’14-15 season. But since his arrival at Old Trafford, his opportunities have been limited (partly due to injuries), and the chances he has gotten have proved to be generally disappointing. There have been a few moments of glory for the Colombian so far this season though, including scoring the winning goal against Everton, as well as setting up Wayne Rooney with a beautiful diving pass against Newcastle during the last game of the 2014 calendar year. But anyone who has been watching United and Falcao this season can tell that he is far, far, far from his best and could definitely use an outing against a weaker League Two side to hopefully get back the form he’s had while playing for Porto, Atletico Madrid, and Monaco.
As seen in the case of Fernando Torres, the mind game is crucial for a striker’s success. Players that don’t have their manager’s confidence and support cannot be expected to perform at their very best, especially in Falcao’s case, where several of his appearances this season have been 15-20 minute stints off the bench. Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone previously stated about his starting eleven that there is Falcao, and then there are ten other players around him. Last season at Monaco, Falcao was yet again a central figure in their starting lineup until injury forced him out halfway through the season. And after seeing a tug of war over his signature last summer between Europe’s premier clubs, Falcao was most likely expecting to be used quite frequently, if not almost every week, at United.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case for the Colombian, and it is most likely affecting his form. Although Rooney has been dropped back into the midfield, Robin van Persie and 19 year old James Wilson have often been preferred to the Colombian – a fact that definitely rattled the striker, not to mention caused a drop in his confidence.
But this match against Cambridge could prove to be a crucial one for Falcao. Last week against QPR, he completed the full ninety minutes and had four shots on goal, three of which were brilliantly saved by QPR keeper Robert Green. His movement was solid, he showed no signs of fatigue, and aside from being out-muscled a few times by the QPR defenders, he managed to get himself to the right places at the right time, just barely missing out on scoring. And even though he didn’t get on the score sheet, van Gaal stated after the match that he thought the Colombian had “played well,” as he contributed positively to United’s attack as a whole.
With this in mind, it is likely that Falcao will retain his spot in the starting eleven, hopefully able to poach a goal or two this time. Van Persie is expected to be fit for the match, but seeing as he is just returning from injury, van Gaal might opt to start with the Dutchman on the bench and introduce him later on in the match.
Throughout the season, the Colombian has reiterated his desire to remain a Red Devil after his loan deal expires in the summer. But his £43.5 million price tag, as well as limited playing opportunities, have blurred the likelihood of a permanent deal being agreed on. United have reportedly stated that they are interested in renegotiating the striker’s transfer fee to a lower value if Falcao is able to prove his worth in the next few months. Hopefully this match against Cambridge marks the start of such a proving period. I know we’d all love to see Falcao get back to his deadly form, especially in a United shirt.