After twenty-two Premier League matches, Manchester United is sitting in seventh place; fourteen points behind league leading Arsenal and six points behind Liverpool/Tottenham for the final Champions League spot.
United’s plummet from the summit of English football to its current state has only taken a few months.
The reasons behind the decline are numerous: A managerial change, the Wayne Rooney transfer saga, a complete failure by the club during the summer transfer window, injuries to key personnel, an aging roster, underperforming players, and a complete reversal of fortunes on the pitch (officiating decisions/lucky bounce of the ball).
Arguably, the root cause of United’s poor showings this season has been loss of Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney to injury. The Dutch striker’s last appearance was on December 10th during United’s 1-0 Champions League win over Shakhtar Donetsk, while Rooney’s last start came on New Year’s Day.
The two forwards have only played alongside each other eight times this season in the Premier League. United’s record in those eight matches is 5W, 2D, 1L.
Last season, Rooney (22 BPL appearances) and Van Persie (35 BPL appearances) combined for 38 goals and 18 assists. To this point in the BPL season, the two have combined for 16 goals and 11 assists.
Out of the club’s twenty-two league fixtures, Rooney has featured in 17 while Van Persie has played in exactly half (11). The last time the two lined up alongside each other was during United’s 1-0 win over Arsenal back on November 10.
Currently, Manchester United has 34 goals in 22 BPL matches. At the same point last season (with Rooney and Van Persie both healthy) the club found the back of the net 56 times in its first twenty-two league fixtures. Along the way, the Dutch and English internationals helped lead United to victory from tied or losing positions numerous times: Fulham (H), Southampton (A), Liverpool (A), Stoke City (H), Chelsea (A), Reading (A), Man City (A) and Newcastle (H).
To say that David Moyes has “missed” the two world class players would be a massive understatement. “We were lacking in the final third,” is a comment United fans have grown accustomed to hearing this season following each of the club’s disappointing results. David Moyes never wavered in his belief that Manchester United would start to finish the scoring chances they were creating.
It appears that the new manager’s long wait is about to be over. Rooney and Van Persie have been back in training this week and look set to feature against Cardiff City on Tuesday.
Also back in training is summer signing Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian international suffered an injury to his wrist shortly after his arrival to United and attempted to play with a soft cast before finally electing on surgery. He has only featured nine times in the league since his arrival from Everton on the last day of the summer transfer window. His last appearance was on December 4th against Everton.
Fellaini’s return comes at a fortunate time because Manchester United will be without the services of midfielder Michael Carrick who suffered ankle ligament damage during the club’s recent League Cup defeat to Sunderland.
If the return of Rooney, Van Persie and Fellaini weren’t a big enough boost, there’s the imminent arrival of Spanish international, Juan Mata. The 2013 PFA Team of the Year member completed his transfer from Chelsea over the weekend and was unveiled to the British media on Monday afternoon. The playmaker also took part in his first training session with United and is in line for an appearance on Tuesday.
During his two-and-a-half years at Stamford Bridge, Mata was a Champions League, Europa League and FA Cup winner while also being named Chelsea’s Player of the Year twice. The Spanish international also has the 2012 European Championship and 2010 World Cup in his trophy case.
Suddenly, a Manchester United lineup which featured a striking tandem of Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez against Sunderland in the League Cup, could find itself showcasing the world class scoring combination of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie; and the individual providing the crucial link up to that attacking partnership might be the midfielding-wizard, Juan Mata.
Add into that mix a healthy Marouane Fellaini and the budding talents of 18-year-old prodigy, Adnan Januzaj, and all of a sudden Manchester United’s sputtering attack looks quite formidable.
With only sixteen matches remaining in the season, Manchester United has a ton of ground to make up on the teams above them in the Premier League table. Everton, Tottenham and Liverpool are standing between United and spot in next year’s European competition.
To this point in the season, things haven’t gone according to plan for the reigning champions of England and their first-year manager. Injuries have taken a huge toll on the club’s fortunes.
But the stars might finally be aligning for David Moyes and Manchester United.
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