Manchester United Squad Review 2012-13 Part IV: StrikersBy: Ian | June 20th, 2013
Name: Javier Hernandez
Summary: For some reason, Hernandez entered the season with possibly a few question marks over his head. I certainly didn’t place them there, I have always been a fan of the lightning-sharp Mexican. Though, given Chicharito’s spectacularly unexpected spectacular debut season, the odds of a second season improvement would have been realistically high. Anyway, the ‘Little Pea’ had a chance to up his goal count in his third season and silence any doubters. Did he do it? Course he did.
Hernandez has an image of a super-sub, and some say that’s the way it should be kept, but he is perfectly capable of doing the job under any circumstances. A wobbly start involved a early saved penalty against Wigan, with was cancelled out with a goal later on in the match. He then stepped up to the plate sensationally by helping to turn around Utd’s pitiful first half showing against Braga (2-0 down at the 45), with two second half goals. He followed this up with a controversial winner against Chelsea.
Another instance of 2-0 down, this time away against Villa, was in the majority rectified by Hernandez, scoring another brace in a eventual 3-2 win. Replays showed the second of Utd’s three to be an own goal, but Hernandez walked away with the ball with a claimed hattrick. Whether he has given the ball back is unclear.
After notching a strike against QPR, the following month saw Chicharito score the winner in a topsy-turvy 4-3 victory against Newcastle. Having already scored against Wigan earlier in the season, Hernandez then started off 2013 by netting another brace against them. Yet another double came in the FA Cup against Fulham, comfortably dispatched 4-1. Later in that same competition, with Reading as the opponents, Hernandez scored the critical second in a 2-1 win. Although Utd would eventually be knocked out by Chelsea, the 2-2 draw in the first match against them featured another example of Hernandez’s great finishing.
Then came the Ferguson showdown, the final home and away against Swansea and West Brom. Hernandez had something to say in both of them, scoring the first in the 2-1 win against Chelsea and following up with the 5th for Utd in the regrettable, yet grossly entertaining, 5-5. In so doing, Hernandez claims the unique title of being the final player to score for the Gaffer in his management career.
Verdict: What you want from a striker is twenty goals a season. It’s always the benchmark for a target man. In his 1st season, Hernandez hit the 20 exactly. Only 12 in the following. This time around it was back up to 18. It is perhaps worth pointing out that he managed his improvement with the same number of appearances of last season. Overall, a great season for the ‘little pea’ who, at 25, can only get better. One of the most lethal, and still underrated strikers, in the league.
Season Score: 8
Name: Danny Welbeck
Position: As close to goal as he can manage without losing control, which is quite a long way
Summary: In 2011-2012, Welbeck notched 12 goals in 39 games, achieving a remarkably high game count having come back from loan against Sunderland. Ferguson exclaimed that he was definitely in his good books, and although there were the usual mistakes of youth, Welbeck looked like a man that was going places. Indeed he was, but as this season has proven, the place in question is not highly rated on Trip Advisor.
Let me sum it up. 2012-2013: the same number of appearances, 39. Goals, from a striker remember: 2. Two goals. Yes, he has been played out of position at times, but even so, that is a dreadful conversion rate. Anyone looking for a reason might choose to investigate how he manages to lose control when approaching the opposition net or how his decision making is not often quick enough. Now let’s go through the highlights. He scored first against Stoke. Nice. Then, four months later, he rather amazingly scored in the away draw against Madrid with a solid header. Highlights done.
Verdict: Pretty poor. No one doubts his enthusiasm and his work rate is great, exemplary at times. But, for strikers in particular, marks are not given for running alone. In terms of a contract, he signed a new four-year deal in August. Going nowhere in terms of location, but might have to work hard to up his goalscoring, or that phrase might be more appropriate to describe his play. Done better for England, and with the greatest of respected to national team football, the pendulum isn’t meant to swing so strongly that way.
Season Score: 4
Name: Robin Van Persie
Summary: Where to start? Well, with his arrival, I suppose. RVP arrived from Arsenal in August, three days before the start of the league. Having enjoyed a successful spell at the Gunners, in terms of goal return if not in trophies, the Flying Dutchman now had a prime opportunity to showcase his talents in a Red shirt. And he’s done it with aplomb.
Moving past a short substitute debut against Everton, Van Persie’s first Utd attempt on goal went in, a delightful volley against Fulham. We had barely entered September before Van Persie nabbed a hat-trick against Southampton. A converted penalty against Liverpool was then followed by his first Utd European goals against Cluj, a brace on this occasion. He kept up this earlier form with finishes against Stoke, Chelsea and ex-employer Arsenal, in addition to a splendid equaliser against West Ham in the FA Cup after a wonder ball from Giggs.
There was no doubt, even by this early point, that his signing was bloody good business. Then came the last minutes free-kick against City, that Nasri kindly assisted with, for a 3-2 win and it seemed even better bloody good business.
This wasn’t a season of all goals and roses, however. Whilst a goal against Everton upped the tally once again, the Dutchman stopped flying quicker than a Boeing Dreamliner and endured a barren spell that effectively handed Bale the Player of the Season award. Had Van Persie continued with a few goals in this time, he would have been so far clear of all his rivals for the Golden Boot (he still got it, so I won’t quibble too much). Ten games went by before a smashed penalty against Stoke revved the engines up again. He then smashed something else, only this time it was his hip after falling into a camera pit at QPR.
As Utd approached the end of the season, the fans were treated to a game against Villa that would see Utd confirmed Champions if only they could win. They did so in some style in a fixture that included another Van Persie hat-trick, the second goal of which was unbelievably sensational. A lofted ball from Rooney was connected with perfectly for a distance volley. Pure genius. Unsurprisingly, the Dutchman collected the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award for his efforts, to put alongside his Golden Boot for 26 strikes.
Verdict: Can anyone remember a signing that has had so much bearing on a title race? One pundit said if City signed Van Persie, then City would win the league. As it was, Utd got him, and they won. End of. We are lucky to have him. The most crucial component of the side alongside Carrick.
Season Score: 10 (let us ignore the barren spell in the light of other things, shall we?
Name: Wayne Rooney
Position: Forward (although a lot of appearances in midfield this campaign)
Summary: I left this one till last purely because it is so difficult. The foundations of Rooney’s season lies with the arrival of Van Persie. With the all-guns-blazing Dutchman easily pencilled into the line-up, Wayne could well have been forgiven for just giving a bit of thought to what was in store for him in 2012-13. They say the times maketh the man, and if so, Rooney didn’t come through it looking too good.
When Carlos Tevez and Berbatov were around, the question was how they would link up with Rooney. When Van Persie arrived, it was a question of how Rooney would link up with the Dutchman. And it is that subtle reversal that put things a bit out of joint. Whereas everyone was salivating over the potentially venomous partnership up front, it is fair to say, its yet to get off the ground, and indeed, it may never. Everyone can remember the delightful linkup as Rooney fed Tevez, who backheeled blindly, for Rooney to convert in a great one-two. Haven’t seen much of that at all, save perhaps for the volley against West Ham.
In just the second game of the season, against Fulham, Rooney found himself on the bench with Van Persie leading the line instead. He did come on to back up his start against Everton in the opener, but a leg injury suffered later that game kept him out for a month. In this time, Van Persie shone brighter than Las Vegas and its easy for the blinkers to come down and just focus on him. Back to the action, however, and Rooney returned against Tottenham before assisting both Van Persie strikes against Cluj in the Champions League, one of the few occasions they both found themselves interlinking.
Decent things continued to happen for Wayne before Christmas as a penalty against Braga and a brace against Reading were good confidence boosts, and a brace against City in the derby even more so. Another brace occurred against Southampton in January.
However, the final few months of the season saw Rooney’s role largely reduced to that of midfield, and it was clear it was frustrating for him. Rooney suffers because he is decent in many positions, so there is perhaps a feeling that if he is played out of formation, the team don’t suffer that much. Maybe not, his midfield passing is often great, but it doesn’t do much for the man himself. Following Sir Alex’s retirement announcement which sent shockwaves through Utd’s fanbase, a further bombshell arrived in the fact that Rooney had submitted an (informal) transfer request. Subsequently, Rooney did not appear in Ferguson’s last two games, at Rooney’s request.
Verdict: In 2011-12, Rooney got a massive goal haul. So let us not judge the new statistics of 12 goals too harshly. In terms of goals, that’s still a decent return, especially given the out-of-positioness that characterised Rooney’s season. The transfer request, which was like deja vu from a few seasons ago, came at a time in which Rooney was guaranteed to get bugger all sympathy because everyone was busy crying over Ferguson’s departure. ‘Sod him’ was the general attitude. He received boos on the Champions Trophy Parade. After having put so much effort to win back a bit of fan loyalty after his poorly handled transfer request of yesteryear, Rooney has undone all that work with his actions towards the season end. Don’t get me wrong, I get the doubt. Van Persie is goldenboy, he proved it time and again. But what should you do? Mope and moan? Not at Utd, not under Ferguson, and not when you are the third highest paid footballer in the world by some accounts. You put some bloody effort in and prove your place. I think Ferguson said it best: “A fit Wayne Rooney would not be substituted.” Who’s ultimate responsibility is it to show the effort and commitment? Rooney’s, I’m afraid.
Now we are left in a bit of limbo. Had Ferguson stayed, I would say with confidence Rooney was likely to go. But now we have the new manager, and the only other one Rooney has also played under at club level. A rift over claims in a book seem to be in the past, so there doesn’t seem to be any problem in a possible working relationship. Some reports say that Rooney sees the change as a chance to start afresh. That’s a good attitude. But he can’t keep creating this sort of situation of discontent and expect understanding on a consistent basis. It doesn’t set a good precedent and Utd fans can take a vicious content from enforcing the ‘no player is bigger than the club’ rule. I am going to stick my neck out here. I am going to say he is staying. For a start, he’s featured in all the 2013-14 kit advertising, and it would be a bit stupid to do all that if he was definitely going. But more than that, I think the change is good for him. I hope he gets more time up front supporting like he wants, even though this is where I think Kagawa should be. Moyes has a real challenge on his hands, how to deal with Rooney, Kagawa, Van Persie and Hernandez. I want to see them all play regularly, but its tough. If I’m wrong and he goes, it’s a great shame because this should be the peak of his career, and with a bit of effort, it could well be.
Season Score: Oooooo, drum roll please. Everyone’s on tenderhooks. What drama here. They think it’s all over, it’s a 6 for playing time. For attitude, an inarguable 3. Get fit, play the game you were born to play and do it properly for the club who’ve given you everything.
There we have it, squad review complete. I hope anyone who has followed it through enjoyed reading it. It was some effort to complete, but if it provided five minutes of fun, it’s done its job. Any feedback, which is greatly appreciated, in the comments section below please. I have enjoyed tracking the progress of United throughout the season and this completes my involvement until the baton is passed over, officially, to David Moyes on July 1st. Once again, today, I have contacted the site administrators who are responsible for assisting the bloggers of the Offside. Should I not receive any reply, it may be that the forthcoming tour and pre-season will be my last involvement here, given a forthcoming increase in demand on my time, namely full-time work and joint study. However, if you have loyally followed the progress of this blog, whether you have got involved or not, thanks to you. It’s been fun :)