Just when Manchester United were riding on the crest of a wave after victory against Olympiacos, Robin van Persie’s injury brought us crashing back down as the news broke that he’d be sidelined for the next four to six weeks.
It was news that fitted the pattern of United’s season so far – peaks and troughs, momentary highs quickly followed by lows. However, on this occasion there was a silver lining. An opportunity lost for one is an opportunity gained for another – step forward Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata.
“I think as a collective, a group of players, you have to contribute to scoring goals,” Scholes told Goal.com after the Van Persie injury was announced.
“Although Robin went a long way to help us win the league last year. But you still need players around him to create chance.
Scholes was proved right by the performance against West Ham. When the starting XI was announced, eyebrows were raised but the prospect of seeing Kagawa and Mata was a tantalising one which duly delivered on its expectation.
Kagawa would have been somewhat forgiven for being rusty after such little football but he thrived alongside Mata and Rooney. The trio were responsible for some of our most fluid football this season and in a campaign that will be mostly remembered for eat, sleep, cross repeat.
Also, Mata flourished in his natural No. 10 role behind Rooney and always looked to get the ball to feet. Having somebody who wants to take responsibility of the ball makes such a difference and the football at Upton Park showed that. West Ham couldn’t contain us.
The decision was forced upon Moyes to not include Van Persie but it was a good thing. He couldn’t be lambasted for dropping our main striker and no longer had to choose a line-up that suited the best players, it was a lineup that suited the players best.
Would he have dropped Van Persie if he was fit? Unlikely, especially after his Olympiacos hat-trick, but his absence allowed United’s playmakers to flourish because of the movement the lineup created.
Rooney’s work rate off the ball and runs in behind gave Kagawa and Mata a fantastic outlet. There was always space to run into because everybody was alive and moving. It’s a style United fans have been crying out for all season.
Against Manchester City tomorrow, David Moyes needs to throw caution to the wind and adopt a similar tactic.
Let’s be blunt about it – Manchester United aren’t strong enough to contain City’s attacking threat despite the current run of five clean sheets in the last seven appearances. We need to play to our strengths and when you’ve got the likes of Kagawa, Mata, Rooney, Welbeck and Januzaj in your side, that is attacking football based around intelligent passing and movement.
In the big games this season, Arsenal aside, Moyes has spectacularly fallen short of expectations and he can’t afford to make that mistake again tomorrow with his team selection.
He needs to let Kagawa and Mata show what they can do on the biggest of stages because their audition against West Ham suggests they’re ready for the main role.