We hadn’t got going in the game and were trailing to a Damien Duff goal at a time when some supporters were still getting used to their new seats and others were moaning once more about the queues for beer.
Still hurting from a defeat at Goodison Park the previous Monday, thoughts turned to our first Premier League campaign where we were beaten at Sheffield United then humbled at home to Everton. Then a piece of play changed everything. It told everyone in the ground that everything would be okay, we wouldn’t yet become second best to our local rivals, because unlike the season before, we had Robin van Persie.
As he swept home United’s equaliser that day, the roar from the crowd that followed was different. It was prolonged, a sense of glorious surprise that he really was ‘that good’. I hadn’t heard a noise like that in a first home game at Old Trafford since Beckham bent in a free-kick against Leicester in 1998, effectively sticking two fingers up to his post World Cup doubters.
Robin’s effort against Fulham was the goal of the season not perhaps as the most quality strike of last term, but most important in terms of sending a message that he was the man to lead United towards a twentieth title. There could have been more success though.
If his goals ratio and contribution pre-Christmas proved how much he was worth to the club, his lack of goals and visible fatigue between January and March showed the need for him to be protected. As reliable as our Robin was most of the times last season, you can’t help but think of what might have been. Those chances in the Bernabeau. Away at Chelsea in cup replay. A two week period during a time when the Dutchman was stuttering saw our treble dreams dashed.
That isn’t a criticism of the man, just an observation that lessons need to be learned from last season both by the player and the new manager. It can be fantastic to enjoy a player of Robin’s class week in week out but there needs to be a discussion on how to make sure Robin is always running in the best possible condition. Approaching 30, he is at an age when the sports scientists and physios begin to play a bigger role in judging a players workload. For a player who has had injury worries in the past, this will become a crucial part of maintaining Robin’s form.
The question of whether a certain scouser will be in the red of United next year will be unanswered for a while yet. David Moyes may have angered and confused Rooney by saying United would need him if the Dutch maestro’s goals dried up but he was right. United will be looking after Robin more next year. He’ll start less games, be withdrawn with games won and held in reserve ahead of the big matches.
At that point the likes of Hernandez, Welbeck, Kagawa and dare I say, Rooney will have to step up. If they do and we have a red hot Robin who is rested and ready for the crucial months of the season when the Champion League comes calling and the fixtures come thick and fast it could be pivotal. And if he doesn’t find the net, we will have strikers who would have had games and (hopefully) goals ensuring they are ready to be brought on if Robin has run them ragged.
It was a ploy used back in ’99. Dwight Yorke was our best striker. His goals may have been a huge help to United’s treble success, yet during those three trophy laden games in May, he was the only one of our fab four who failed to score.
Rest Robin, rotate the others, possibly (if he stays) rejuvenate Rooney; it is a recipe for success that we didn’t perhaps use as well as we should have last year. If our new gaffer manages it, we could be toasting more success both domestically and abroad in 2014.
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