Manchester United took another step towards regaining the Premier League title with a routine 2-0 win at bottom club Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, but the points came at a cost for the Red Devils. Top scorer Robin van Persie suffered a first-half injury which resulted in him being substituted.
The Dutch striker was involved in the buildup to United's opening goal but hurt himself after falling into a hole containing a television camera.
As per manager Alex Ferguson's comments (via Sky Sports):
He collided into a camera which was dug out of a piece of ground, he collided into the base of it and that's given him a sore hip. I imagine it will be tender and sore for a few days, but hopefully he'll be alright, particularly for the Real game.
United face Norwich City in a Premier League match on Saturday, 2 March, but with a 15-point lead at the top of the table it will be the next game which immediately concerns his manager and the club.
Robin van Persie has only nine days to recover fully to take his place in the United lineup for the key UEFA Champions League clash against Real Madrid. United will want him playing, perhaps more than any other player.
While Madrid might not be enjoying their best season domestically, they remain a significant threat. The 1-1 scoreline from the first leg in Madrid renders the Old Trafford return leg incredibly important and finely poised; a goal either way might be enough to secure progress to the quarterfinals.
In that case, having their top scorer unavailable would be a huge blow to United's chances.
In truth, van Persie was always going to be unlikely to face Norwich in the league game which comes before the Champions League tie. With a healthy lead at the top of the Premiership table, United have the opportunity to rest a number of key first-team players—Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and perhaps Michael Carrick might be the most probable candidates—in the knowledge that defeat will not significantly harm their chances of winning the league title.
The Real Madrid match, with its knockout format, is another matter altogether.
Other than van Persie himself, only Javier Hernandez has managed to hit the back of the net more than once in European competition this season, with Rooney, Carrick and Jonny Evans adding one apiece.
Danny Welbeck has been hugely ineffective in front of goal this season, registering just once in the league, though he did also open his European account with the all-important away goal in Madrid during the first-leg draw.
Robin van Persie missed two or three good second-half chances to add to United's score tally, but uncharacteristically was unable to make the most of the good openings he found.
Is Robin van Persie the most important player for United vs. Real Madrid?
Even so, he maintains a 20 percent shot conversion rate in continental play this season, the same as his domestic conversion rate. Compared to Rooney, who has registered a single goal in Europe from 14 attempts, it is clear that—for all Rooney's on-the-ball abilities—United's goal threat is significantly reduced without van Persie.
United have a big opportunity to proceed into the last eight of the UEFA Champions League, knowing that they simply have to win at home to guarantee safe passage. Even a 0-0 draw will do them fine, and if van Persie is unfit to participate, or at least play at his highest level, then that might indeed be the scoreline they keep in their minds as the game unfolds.
But Real Madrid, with Cristiano Ronaldo especially, are always likely to find the net away from home. If they manage to score then United have no alternative but to register a strike themselves.
And in that scenario, there is only one man they absolutely want in the side right now, so Robin van Persie's timely recovery from this rather strange injury is of paramount importance to United.
Statistical data from WhoScored.com