Danny Welbeck: How The Manchester United Striker Is Rising To The Challenge Of RVP
Danny Welbeck had it all; he'd been feted as one of the most promising strikers in the Premier League, entrusted by his manager to lead the line for his boyhood club and brought the hi-top fade back for the first time since Will moved in with his Auntie and Uncle in Bel Air.
But then Aguero scored, City won the title on goal difference and Sir Alex Ferguson took drastic action to ensure such agony was a one time thing. Like a man whose just been mugged at knife point buying a rocket launcher to prevent it happening again he dropped a lot of money on ruthless, bona-fide goal machine. Enter Robin Van Persie and exit, for the early part of the season at least, Danny Welbeck.
The Dutchman's clinical brilliance has, at times, looked like it might stall the considerable progress made by Welbeck last term. He amassed 38 appearances last season for Manchester United and acquitted himself assuredly at the Euros; a silver lining for a team whose game-plan entailed standing in their own half and quietly shitting themselves with fear.
Welbeck has had to adapt to survive and has not often been played in his preferred position. Chances have been limited in big games as Fergie now seems to prefer the menacing width of Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia to pin teams into their own half.
When given the chance though the gangly lad from Longsight has shown the courage and work ethic to give Sir Alex a dilemma. This was particularly evident against Spurs where, playing from the left but pushed slightly in-field, he was a constant nuisance. His touch and technique were superb and he was instrumental in the move that led to Van Persie's goal. Welbeck also uses his pace astutely and dangerously; at White Hart Lane his clever movement and raw athleticism left a subdued Kyle Walker trailing on more than one occasion.
Although Aaron Lennon was afforded a lot of space United were attempting to play compact on the opposite flank, to nullify Gareth Bale, leaving Welbeck to exploit the chasm between Tottenham's attacking right winger and full back. He did this cleverly, varying his approach so that Walker was unsure whether to follow him when he dropped in between the lines, knowing that it would leave acres in behind which would favour Welbeck's strong running and race-horse stride. It created a situation whereby sitting off Walker afforded him the time to pick the ball up, turn and drive infield or, if his marker stuck tight, he could spin into the space for a pass and back himself to win the foot race.
Performances such as this one will help him get off the bench and allow him to carve out a niche in reaction to RVP's startling consistency. His burgeoning versatility means he'll get opportunities that Chicarito, for instance, simply won't be afforded. The elfin Mexican is so utterly consumed by poaching goals that he will never be relied upon for the positional discipline and earnest work ethic that Welbeck can provide in non-central areas.
He will also be fulfilling a role that Wayne Rooney is now uncomfortable with. It was often Wayne that was farmed out wide in service to a more traditional central striker - but his game has evolved since then. Now his talents are put to best use from relatively deep lying positions and it's unlikely United will waste his passing by shunting him toward the opposition full backs. Rooney's natural impulse is also to come toward the ball in a hungry attempt to influence the game, rather than to stretch the play.
Here Welbeck can offer something markedly different, occupying that berth just removed from the centre in a way that is distinct from his team-mates. It is an intriguing compromise between the directness of Van Persie and the touch line hugging trickery of Valencia or Young.
For Welbeck to stake even more of a claim for a starting spot his finishing needs to catch up with his all round play. Javier Hernadez often scores goals at important moments - it's a canny knack that Welbeck could do with learning. Hernandez's crucial last minute winner against Newcastle prompted admiring comments from his manager, airbrushing his weak performance that preceded it out of Fergie's memory. If Welbeck could write a few headlines, and make his occasionally wayward end-product more efficient, it would increase his stock considerably.
It has been tough a tough season for Welbeck but the evidence is there to suggest he's got the minerals. His chance to operate as the fulcrum of the Manchester United attack will come in time; for now he is applying himself and delivering pretty well in unfamiliar circumstances. It would be a shame if his career faltered due to the immovable obstacle that Van Persie has become in United's team – luckily, it seems he has no intention of letting that happen.