It's the question on everyone's lips: "What has happened to Robin van Persie?" So prolific for six months of the season, the striker's form has dipped alarmingly since February, with many believing he may be dropped for the trip to Stoke this weekend.
Eighteen league goals in his first 23 appearances made him the clear bookies' favorite to win the Golden Boot this season. But just one in his last eight games has left fans puzzled at the dramatic lack of production since February.
A big factor could be the return to form of strike partner Wayne Rooney.
It is no coincidence that van Persie's stunning start to the season came when Rooney was injured and out from the side. The Dutchman was fielded as the lone forward—the same position that made him so prolific during his final season at Arsenal.
Nine goals in his first 10 showed the impact he initially had, but more importantly, on only one occasion did Rooney and RVP score in the same game.
Rooney's form and fitness have been well documented, which led the England international to take a secondary role on the team: turning provider for his strike partner. He may only have scored two goals in his first nine games, but he still provided five assists (four to van Persie).
However, Rooney's recent form has improved dramatically at the same time van Persie's has dipped, and as his goals have become more regular, the assists have dropped off.
Increased chances for Rooney in a more advanced position has definitely stopped some of RVP's production.
It's almost a role-reversal to the start of the season, with van Persie providing four assists (two to Rooney) in his last six, while only hitting the back of the net once.
Sometimes it takes time to develop chemistry with a new strike force—and worryingly for the rest of the league, the best may still be yet to come.
Fatigue could also be a big reason why the 29-year-old's productivity has dropped.
By the end of the season, van Persie will have played more games in his last two seasons than his previous three combined—that's a huge increase in workload.
The Dutchman has been plagued with injury problems throughout his career but finally looks to be healthy.
Still, 93 games in two seasons is a massive amount of work for any striker.
Many believed van Persie would be used on a rotational basis, yet Javier Hernandez has hardly gotten a look while Danny Welbeck has been deployed as an attacking winger rather than a central striker.
Incredibly, van Persie is on course to feature in every single EPL game in the past two seasons.
And to a certain extent, the hard work has been done. United have all but secured the league title while there are no more cups to fight for at this stage of the season.
A lot of energy has already been used up, not to mention the emotional transition of joining a new club. The tank is quite understandably close to empty.
So what do you do with a problem like RVP?
Quite simply—play him.
Every striker goes through goal droughts, and United fans should not be concerned one bit at the recent lack of goal production.
The defeat to Manchester City will have plenty gunning for revenge and determined to finish the season strong.
With United facing Stoke, West Ham and Aston Villa in their next three, there should be plenty of opportunities for the forward to get back on track.
Van Persie only trails Luis Suarez by three goals—with an extra game to play. And with the striker now on penalty duties, don't be surprised if the Dutchman is lifting his second consecutive Golden Boot at the end of the season.
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