Dimitar Berbatov was joint top scorer in the Premier League last season, along with Carlos Tevez, scoring 20 goals in 32 matches. This season he’s only managed just seven league goals for Manchester United, but has only appeared in 10 league matches (only five of which he’s started). His goal scoring record this season is better than both Javier Hernandez (10 goals in 24 Premier League matches) and Danny Welbeck (7 in 23) — both of the strikers reaping much of the pitch time at Berbatov’s expense.
So at first glance it would seem Berbatov is being unfairly benched for two players who aren’t performing nearly at the clip he’s proven that he can. But then you look at the league table and United have opened up a 5 point lead at the top and seemingly can’t stop winning, with ten wins and a draw in their last 11 Premier League matches. Of these last 11 matches, Berbatov has only played in one (and scored). The answer to how United has made up for the absence of Berbatov’s goals this season has been Wayne Rooney’s form. Rooney has scored 21 goals in 26 matches this season. This is about twice the rate at which he scored last season (only 11 goals in 28), but closer to his career best form of 2009-10 (26 goals in 32).
So the argument can be made that Manchester United are possibly better off without Berbatov playing. Rooney is playing as good as he ever has, and the team as a whole isn’t suffering at all. Maybe if Berbatov was starting more matches it would have a negative impact on Rooney, or the style and speed of United’s attacking play. After all, Rooney is their best player, and the team should be set out to get the most out of his strengths. Perhaps playing Hernandez and/or Welbeck alongside him does just that, whereas Berbatov’s style would slow them down a bit too much.
It’s just that ever since Sir Alex Ferguson left Berbatov completely out of the squad for last season’s Champions League final against Barcelona, I feel as if he’s been oddly left out in the cold time and time again for no discernible reason. It’s one thing if the team plays better without him, but it’s another thing entirely to have last season’s top scorer in the country not even worthy of a spot on the bench, as he has been for 6 of the previous 11 league matches. Surely a player who scored 20 goals last season and has been in good form, when played, this season is worth a spot on at least the bench just in case your team is in desperate need of a goal late in a match?
I just don’t get it.