As a product of the Premier League factory that is the Manchester United academy, there’s always a good chance that Danny Welbeck—who joined the club at the age of 15—would be given his ample share of chances to impress at the club.
However, one debate currently ringing around the Red Devils' fraternity is, with the wealth of attacking talent calling Old Trafford their home, whether Welbeck ultimately fits the bill.
The Daily Mail recently reported upon Sir Alex Ferguson’s selection dilemma, admitting that, despite a man-of-the-match performance just the week before, the other options at the Theatre of Dreams means that the forward’s position is never truly safe.
At least not as long as Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez all remain at the club.
In truth, the 22-year-old is already on course to have his most prominent campaign at Manchester United yet, making 25 appearances across all competitions and looking likely to beat last year’s tally of 38 appearances.
That said, it would seem that involvement and success don’t necessarily correlate, and the fact that Welbeck has already matched last season’s number of appearances from the bench (13), his influence on United matters begin to look a little less impressive.
Understandably, the summer arrival of Robin van Persie at Manchester United has provided the club with a monumental striking option, one that is likely to start every game and is undoubtedly the most prolific asset amongst Ferguson’s ranks right now.
The addition of such a talent might be beneficial for Manchester United as an entity, but for Danny Welbeck, the youngster hoping to make his break into one of the world’s biggest sides, it would appear to spell bad news.
Although a striker by nature, the level of competition for preferred placement is more fervent than ever in the Reds’ attacking positions and for much of the season, Welbeck has found himself playing out wide.
In this role, the academy product hasn’t been able to influence United matters as he may have wanted and has been focused more on providing supply than being the one receiving it.
With three times as many assists as goals this season, it’s clear that the arrival of RVP has made standing out as the “key man”, the finisher, a far more difficult job for Welbeck.
In one of his better performances from the wing, Welbeck helped in dismantling a QPR side in November, providing an assist and finishing with 86 percent pass completion as well as three key passes (via WhoScored.com)
However, there are instances where the forward has looked out of sorts playing in an unnatural part of the pitch.
According to EPLIndex.com, in league fixtures against Southampton, Everton and Newcastle United, Welbeck averaged a pass forward ration of just over seven percent and, perhaps most worryingly for a player in that position, made just one cross in 230 minutes of playing time.
However, EPLIndex.com also says that against Liverpool, West Brom, Tottenham and Wigan—games where Welbeck has played more centrally—the Red Devil has averaged a pass forward ratio of 18 percent and has looked terrific in terms of positioning, making a fuss of himself either as a leading man or as part of a front pairing.
There is a downside to Welbeck’s displays in his more natural role however, as the striker seems to be capable of doing all except hitting the target, a pretty pivotal aspect of play for a striker.
In three of the four aforementioned league fixtures, the 22-year-old managed to get no shots on target, the worst of which came in the victory over Wigan where all seven of Welbeck’s efforts were off target.
From these results, we can gather that the attacker has been inconsistent whether in his preferred position or out of it, seeing his standards change by the game.
Whether it’s due to a lack of game time or confidence, it’s clear that Welbeck’s form in front of goal has suffered since the more prolific campaign of 2011-12. After all, who would be able to feel anything other than intimidation when such attacking threats inhabit the same club as you?
It’s possible that in order to rediscover his best form, Welbeck may need to be farmed out on loan once more, just as he did at Sunderland before becoming somewhat of a fan favourite at the Stadium of Light.
Whether or not Sir Alex Ferguson can afford to let such a potentially effective fourth option go is up for debate, but Welbeck may feel that the starting places in the League Cup and some Champions League fixtures aren’t what he’s prepared to settle for.
Where once there was a joyful kid with not a care in the world now stands a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders and feeling it at that.
You can follow me on Twitter @TomSunderland_.