Robin van Persie’s form hasn’t been terrible this season with him scoring 11 goals in 15 league games. However, his sulking behavior and comments regarding his teammates “getting in his way” are now throwing a bit of doubt over his future at the club. Not to mention some speculation that Moyes’ intense training methods are not helping him. Also, van Persie clearly held Rene Mulensteen in high regard, with the Dutch coach’s unique training methods aiding van Persie’s form in his debut season. After the World Cup is over, come August van Persie will be 31-the sort of age where a center forward will have to rely less on his pace and more on his positioning and finishing.
RVP’s role under David Moyes
Van Persie is a 9 and a half, like he regularly says himself. He likes to drop back, start attacks and arrive late to finish. He is also good in the air and inside the box, a very technical player who is one of the better finishers in Europe. Against Olympiakos, he had one clear cut chance and failed to take it. It was a cross from Chris Smalling who was expertly fed by Shinji Kagawa. As van Persie shifted it to his right and blazed over the bar, one could not help but wonder why on earth are United crossing the ball towards Rooney and van Persie-two of the most gifted finishers in the world when they can instead use a central playmaker to thread through balls down the middle.
On paper, the Rooney-RVP combo looks like the best front line in the Premier League, possibly even in Europe. But the problem now is that van Persie is operating more as a 9 and very much less as a 10. The role exchange, where RVP drops back and Rooney occupies the 9, is not happening, either in Europe or in the Premier League. As can be seen in their heat maps against Olympiakos,. Rooney very rarely ventured into the box, mainly due to the ineffectual performance of the wingers and lack of verve in the engine room. All he did was ping long balls out from the middle to Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia.
Rather than playing a 4-4-1-1 of sorts, with one behind the other, it might be better to play Kagawa or Juan Mata in behind the two of them in more of a diamond or a 4-3-1-2 formation. This would lead to both RVP and Rooney dragging the center backs diagonally, enabling the no.10 to either shoot from outside the box or slip it through the gap between the centre-backs.
On form RVP is one of the best strikers in Europe but in the current system employed by David Moyes he is not being allowed enough space to drop deep nor is he able to make the most of his clever movement by making well timed runs off the back of the defenders. Instead, he is told to play inside the box and get on the end of wayward crosses. For a technically superior player like RVP, this will prove tiring and without proper service from the flanks, he will struggle.
With the Dutch national team Robin van Persie has Arjen Robben cutting inside from the right to zip through balls between the CBs. He has Wesley Sneijder who is the master of the killer pass and the long diagonal. He can even play off a proper number 9 in Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, a role he clearly flourishes in, given his inherent creativity and technique. To him, a direct, vertical philosophy seems more suitable than the present horizontal wingplay that United employ. And although this might mean playing without wingers, United have three top number 10s in their squad – Mata, Kagawa and Adnan Januzaj. Ideally, Mata on the right and Kagawa on the left playing as inverted playmakers could curb the over-reliance on Rooney to drive the team forward and also overload the space between the opposition midfield and defence – the exact zone where United have been lacking authority all season.