Huffpost UK Sport uk

Robin Van Persie Rescues Manchester United In Champions League (PICTURES/VIDEO)

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

Robin van Persie scored the goals and Wayne Rooney provided the goals as Manchester United came from behind to win for the fourth time this season against CFR Cluj in Romania.

Rooney's vision, complemented by one flukey finish and another fine finish from the Dutchman, inevitably lead to ITV's Guy Mowbray excitedly asking both men if this was, like Rick and Louis in Casablanca, the beginning of a beautiful (on-pitch) friendship. Both were cagey but optimistic, since Javier Hernández's inclusion hardly made it an old-fashioned two up front selection.

rvp

Van Persie thanks Rooney after his equaliser

Sir Alex Ferguson made no secret the signing of Van Persie provided him with a quartet of strikers boasting various qualities that were akin to the firepower United had in their 1998-99 treble-winning squad. Danny Welbeck's off-the-ball intelligence and Hernández's poaching instincts complement the team's number 10 and number 20.

Although Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struck the injury time goals in that heady crescendo at Camp Nou in the 1999 Champions League final, United's campaign was dominated by the telepathy between Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole.

Yorke, like Van Persie, was a big money arrival having joined for a club record £12.6m from Aston Villa in the summer of 1998. He and Cole scored 53 goals between them but ironically, when paired on Yorke's debut, both failed to register in a 0-0 draw at West Ham.

Solskjaer then started four of the next five matches with Yorke with both bagging a brace on the latter's home debut against Charlton Athletic. Sheringham showed promise alongside the Trinidad & Tobago international away to Bayern Munich in the Champions League until Yorke and Cole ran riot in the next run of games they were partnered alongside one another.

United beat Southampton 3-0, Wimbledon 5-1, Brondby 6-2, Everton 4-1 and Brondby again 5-0 in five of their next six matches. Cole and Yorke scored 11 goals in the process until the season's solitary 0-0 at home to Newcastle in early November.

Van Persie and Rooney's challenge in mimicking a similar on-pitch chemistry is an unenviable one, despite their promise. Whereas in the late 90s good sides consisted of great striker partnerships (Bergkamp and Anelka, Fowler and Owen, Ronaldo and Romario, Salas and Zamorano etc.) the striker partnership, if not dead, has been delivered its last rites.

Two of football's greatest teams in recent memory do not start with one out-and-out striker, let alone two. Barcelona deploy a false nine (a skilled attacker playing in the striker role but who is not a striker) in Lionel Messi while Spain largely resisted starting a striker at all at Euro 2012 and won the competition with relative ease.

Ferguson's tactical savvy has been questioned since Carlos Queiroz, arguably the architect of United's 2008 Champions League win, left the club to coach Portugal, and as talented a goalscorer and gifted an attacker Van Persie is, many supporters would have preferred Ferguson addressed the squad's chronic midfield malaise. A problem position for over seven years, it's the Scot's blind spot and one which burdens Van Persie and Rooney.

Prior to the win in Cluj, Ferguson was candid in his assessment of United's squad, stating their strength undeniably lay in attack. Perhaps a mea culpa for not tightening the team's porous defence, it was a marker laid down for his new strikeforce as well.

Rooney lacks the discipline to float between defence and attack, so his inclusion in the team will be in order to score and supply Van Persie as United, much like their Treble forefathers, set out to score more than the opposition. This will compensate the supporters who have grown disillusioned with Ferguson's inability to strike the right balance in regards to the team's style since 2006-07, but it's a tactic few of the major clubs on the continent will have considered, let alone adopted.

Around the Web

Anxious win for United at CFR Cluj

Champions League: Van Persie's double lifts Manchester United

Manchester United: Radical Changes Must Be Made to the Back-Four Immedietley

BATE Upsets Bayern in Champions League; Chelsea, Man. United Win

Manchester United: 5 Reasons Red Devils Shouldn't Sell Nani in 2013