West Ham vs Man United: Van Persie’s Impact Greater Than Cantona & Other Lessons Learned

Van Persie is the new Cantona, Evra has nothing to worry about and Giggs still has the legs; all lessons to be learnt from Manchester United's thrilling 2-2 draw with West Ham on Saturday.
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Van Persie is the new Cantona, Evra has nothing to worry about and Giggs still has the legs; all lessons to be learnt from Manchester United's thrilling 2-2 draw with West Ham on Saturday.

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West Ham vs Man United: Van Persie’s Impact Greater Than Cantona And Other Lessons Learned

Another Van Persie late introduction, another Manchester United game salvaged. And how. Overall it was a perfectly good result against an Allardyce team that unsurprisingly showered crosses into the box at every opportunity and let the swathe of big men fight it out, relying on the beautiful footballing philosophy “Our men are bigger than your men”. What can we take away from the game? Well, on a positive note, Van Persie’s incredible goal gives a chance for reflection and celebration of his impact on United over his first four months- the time it took Cantona to help United to win their first Premier League title- and it’s interesting to compare the two. Secondly, the contribution from United’s ageing legends, Giggs and Scholes, proved something of a microcosm of the duo’s current capabilities, and thirdly, Büttner’s performance confirmed that Evra doesn’t really have to look over his shoulder (although perhaps doing so in a game for once might help out the defence).

Van Persie’s impact better than Cantona

That really was ridiculous. His first touch from Giggs’ beautiful lofted ball was the best I’ve seen all season. The way he killed it on his weaker foot and took a second touch away from Tomkins, all without breaking stride, was truly magnificent. Like Bergkamp at his very best. Ferguson has been consistently outspoken in his praise for the Dutchmen, and last night said “the manner of the goal - the pass from Ryan Giggs and first touch from Robin van Persie and his finish - is absolutely world class, absolutely fantastic." He’s also likened RVP’s impact to that of Cantona in ’92. The Frenchman is generally recognised as being the catalyst for United’s first Premier League victory- for their propulsion from mid-league to the top over four of the next five seasons. His flair, dedication to training and infectious confidence are generally cited as the main reasons for this. Still, they had a cracking team; it seemed they just needed a little kick up the backside.

On a purely individual level, I’d suggest Van Persie’s immediate impact at United has been even greater than Cantona’s. He has scored 16 in 18 Premier League starts, three in three in the Champions Leauge, and now one in one in the FA Cup. Compare that with Cantona’s nine goals in 22 league games in his first year. Like Cantona, Van Persie’s impact has not been about the goals alone. His sheer presence has reinvigorated the likes of Hernandez and generally upped the ante in United’s attacking play, and his link up work has been consistently outstanding. Still, looking purely at his goals, Van Persie’s tally of game-winners has by itself contributed an incredible 18 points.

It’ll be interesting, when all is said and done for Fergie, when he’s hung the chewing gum up for good and is living off his wine cellar, which signing he would tell us made the biggest immediate impact at the club during his reign. Keane, Ronaldo and Schmeichal would all have a case to argue, but it’s ultimately always going to come down to two: Cantona or Van Persie. Perhaps the era-changing nature of the Frenchman’s introduction will always hold a greater sense of romance and profundity, but on cold hard stats, Van Persie’s first four months outweigh Cantona’s.

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Büttner just not good enough

I think it’s fair to say that people got a little bit overexcited by his debut performance in September. His mazy run and goal looked very flashy, and he did have a good game, but let’s be honest; against Wigan at Old Trafford Gary Neville could probably still do a job. The Dutchman was the man brought in to remind Patrice Evra that he does actually have to concentrate a little; that his starting position is not guaranteed. Unfortunately, his performance yesterday only reinforced what was becoming increasingly apparent from his previous handful of games: that Evra can quite comfortably call the left-back slot his own. It’s pretty disappointing, because although Evra has scored a career-total-trebling four already this season, this is really more of a reflection of his lack of interest in any defensive duties. He has been at fault for a good few goals this season, often straying from position, as against Swansea two weeks ago. All in all, Büttner really doesn’t look to be putting too much pressure on the ageing Frenchman. He’s started one Premier League game to Evra’s 20. If one stat could tell its own tale…

Giggs will outlast Scholes

Playing at the base of the midfield diamond yesterday, Scholes’ overall game was OK, spreading the ball as masterfully as always, but he was at fault for both goals. First he allowed Joe Cole far too much room to cross in to Collins, and second, he wandered out of the penalty area leaving two spare West Ham players to latch on to Cole’s carbon copy cross, which again Collins’ despatched. Giggs, on the other hand, came on and affected an immediate change. His sprayed pass landed in Van Persie’s stride perfectly and sealed FA Cup survival.

To me, yesterday summed up the current status of the two veteran-legends quite succinctly. Scholes does clearly still have something to offer, namely an ability to slow things down and keep possession. He used to be the go-to man for incision (or ‘penetration’ as Fergie loves to call it) through the opponent’s defence, but nowadays he’s rarely willing or able to venture far enough up the pitch to get into such a position, knowing that it’s he who is expected to be the midfielder standing in the way if possession is lost.

Giggs, on the other hand, doesn’t have to worry about defensive discipline. His job is to provide craft in the final third, and he rarely disappoints. We know he’s never going to grumble about being used as an impact creator; while he’s still providing something valuable for the club he’s played for since 1990(!) he’ll be happy to contribute. Remarkably, there are no signs of his ability to create winning goals slowing down. He may be not be able to do it for successive full games, but I see no reason why he won’t sign one more year-long contract, and provide a meaningful contribution for another season. Scholes may well be offered a contract, and would surely accept, but I worry that his increasingly prevalent lapses in concentration and tiring legs in a position that will always demand heavily on fitness, will outweigh the fruits of his undoubtedly magical, yet ageing talent.

Follow Fabio on Twitter at @Fabzucci