Analysing Robin van Persie's Role in Manchester United's Attack

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterDecember 19, 2012

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 15:  Robin van Persie of Manchester United in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Sunderland at Old Trafford on December 15, 2012 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

When Manchester United splashed £22 million on Robin van Persie this summer, many raised their eyebrows and asked some very valid questions.

Why risk that much on a 29-year-old striker whose ankle is less than trustworthy? Is a new striker the Red Devils' biggest need?

Sir Alex Ferguson ignored the doubters and, clearly irked by losing the English Premier League title race on goal differential to Manchester City, opted to buy a shed-load more goals.

Enter the Dutchman.



Robin van Persie has already shown himself to be comfortable in almost every formation Sir Alex Ferguson can throw at him.

Even when others felt less than comfortable with the midfield diamond experiment, RvP seemed very much at home with it. Of course, the reason for this is he plays his own relatively unique role no matter what the shape of the team is.

Van Persie has a habit of dictating the attacking rhythm of his team. What Arsenal once thrived upon, Manchester United now the reap the rewards of.

The result? A free-flowing Red Devils attack compared to a stuttering, narrow Arsenal one. Harsh realities.



His game is exactly the same as it was under Arsene Wenger—he's given the freedom to move in and out of the forward line, laying credence to the idea that both he and Wayne Rooney are playing as false-nines, or nine-and-a-halves.

The main difference is that in Ferguson's 4-4-2, he's not the only one tearing the opposition to shreds through erratic, unpredictable movement.

We'll take Rooney's goal against Sunderland as an example.

RvP starts the move in a central position and shifts the ball wide to Ashley Young. He then decides to run around and overlap on the left side of his winger due to absence of Patrice Evra on this quick, direct attack.

Rooney stays in the box as the target and attracts the attention of John O'Shea.

Once Young has laid the ball off, he stays in the same position, meaning Craig Gardner has to stay with him and can't cover the near post.

RvP takes the ball to the byline and fizzes in a cross for his striker partner to finish. Had they all been in Arsenal shirts, RvP would have fizzed the cross into a box devoid of colleagues.



Manchester United haven't had an attack this potent in a while.

Danny Welbeck works well with Rooney but doesn't offer this kind of outlet, and Javier Hernandez is strictly one-dimensional with his play.

If Wenger had been brave enough to try two strikers at Arsenal, there could have been hatfuls of goals going in at the Emirates Stadium on a regular basis.

As it stands, the difference between the two sides' attacks with RvP in them is that Ferguson uses a second striker, meaning the good service work the Dutchman does isn't completely in vain.

When he was a Gunner, Van Persie would often drop in and join up with his midfielders, but a lack of attacking drive from his wingers meant he would often end up shooting from 25 to 30 yards.

There's no danger of his good work going to waste at Old Trafford.



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