Would Manchester United Be Better off Without Robin Van Persie?

Simeon GholamCorrespondent IIMarch 25, 2014

Manchester United's Robin van Persie wipes his face as he walks from the pitch after his team's 1-0 defeat to Newcastle in their English Premier League soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Saturday Dec. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Jon Super/Associated Press

How often would a team be better off without its top goalscorer?

Chances are not all that often.

Especially not if the subject of the question is a certain Robin van Persie, the man who spearheaded Manchester United's gloriously emphatic title charge last season, who has netted 47 goals in his 73 appearances for the club and scored a superb Champions League hat trick that kept his side's season alive less than a week ago.

But still, especially now that he is likely to miss the next six weeks with a hamstring injury picked up in that game against Olympiakos, the question remains.

And if Saturday evening's comfortable 2-0 victory over West Ham was anything to go by, maybe life after the Dutchman won't be so bad. They did, after all, turn in their most fluid attacking performance of the campaign at Upton Park.

A quick reality check is in order first, before we get too carried away with one decent performance (something that has happened after pretty much every United victory so far this season).

West Ham did not present the sternest of challenges, and a wonderfully, freakishly brilliant early goal did make it easier to control the game pretty much from the outset. It is, of course, the bigger games where David Moyes' side have suffered so badly this season.

But there was a flexibility and dynamism on show at Upton Park that is certainly cause for optimism as we fast approach this season's home stretch.

Juan Mata looked thrice the player in a more central role, dovetailing effortlessly with Shinji Kagawa in attacking midfield in their first start together and providing an excellent stream of support and service to Wayne Rooney upfront. 

It is little wonder, then, that after such a dramatically improved performance—in the context of what has been a diabolical season—Moyes would be hit with questions over whether their side were better off without Van Persie. 

"There isn't any club in Europe or the world who wouldn't want Robin van Persie playing centre-forward for them and for us it's a massive miss," he said in an interview with ESPN.

Naturally, you can only read so much into this. It is highly unlikely that he would come out in an interview and say how much happier he is without one of his players. 

But, for a manager who is as naturally cautious and reactive as Moyes, you have to wonder if there isn't a little bit of relief somewhere in his mind now that he is no longer forced to start two strikers in every single game. You need only look at how confused the game plan was against Liverpool for evidence of his struggle to accommodate all of his star players.

He had three players who have to play—Van Persie, Mata and Rooney—and no feasible way of fitting them all into a conservative and well-balanced system. Therefore, United were both completely overrun all over the pitch and incredibly poor going forward. An attacking 4-4-2 with no attacking intent is never likely to work.

Jon Super/Associated Press

Rooney is often lauded as a superb No. 10, but he is inherently more of a second striker and does not seem to enjoy playing second fiddle to Van Persie at all.

If anything, you could even argue that his two finest seasons in a United shirt were 2009/10 and 2011/12—both in which he was very much the main man (although they are also the only two seasons of the past seven in which United didn't win the title, so read into that what you will).

And his rather extravagant new contract suggests that Moyes has firmly stuck his flag in Rooney's corner.

Neither can ever be dropped, and it is hard for him to even substitute one of the pair in a game for fear of some kind of backlash. When Van Persie and Rooney start together, the team generally seems to lack cohesiveness. 

More difficult games lie ahead, notably against Manchester City this Tuesday night and against Bayern Munich in the Champions League in the coming weeks, and Moyes will be keen to impress with the more versatile array of options that are now available to him. 

Whether it be a rumoured move back to his former club, or just a report of his general unhappiness at the club, speculation abounds over whether Van Persie will still be at the club come the start of next season.

And David Moyes has now been granted six extra weeks to try and determine whether or not his side will be better off without him going forward.