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Robin van Persie: Return to Form

 Coming off a busy and relatively successful World Cup campaign, it was predicted by many that Robin van Persie would feel the effects of the coveted international tournament and would consequently affect his performances in the Premier League. Plenty of critics called for the Dutchman’s head, given a noticeable slump in his performances for the Manchester club. Tom Chambers documents van Persie’s recent and timely return to form, claiming that the 24 million man has still got it in him. 

RVP 2015

For the vast majority of the season so far, Robin van Persie has been almost unrecognisable from his usual, ruthless self. The player himself has cited coming back off a World Cup in which the team he captained claimed third place, as a possible reason for his self-confessed difficult time, saying “it’s tough. You are trying absolutely everything, but it’s not coming off. You don’t have that kind of luck you normally have. It was a tough start for me and the team.” So tough in fact that many wrote off van Persie, Holland’s all-time leading scorer and scorer of more Premier League goals in the last four seasons than any other player, completely. However, it seemed van Persie was giving people a reason to be critical with, up until recently, his performances seeming lethargic to the point where he almost seemed to be not trying which is the worst thing you can ever accuse of a footballer.

A recent article on compared van Persie’s running stats in the first game of last season against Swansea (A) to his stats from this season. This showed that against Swansea on 17/08/13 he ran 10.18km and made 53 sprints while as of 21/11/14 he was averaging 10.47km per game and making 54 sprints. This would suggest little had changed in terms of his work rate yet to most fans this seemed to be the case. This could be attributed to the fact that he was also not as clinical as previously, with his shot conversion rate of 13.6% being the worst of any player with three or more goals in the league this season as of 21/11/14, this despite his shots on target ratio actually being higher than in that stellar 12/13 season, 59.1% – 55.1%. This highlights that whilst Robin was hitting the target, he was not finding the corners, making it easier for keepers to repel his attempts.

The man himself, who sets himself admirably high standards, recognised that a miss against Chelsea in the first half, when one on one with Courtois would have been taken 18 months ago, saying “I had three options… I chose the last and safest, if I wouldn’t have thought it over I would have just chipped it. I just have to trust again in my intuition.” A combination of a perceived lack of effort and killer instinct saw many call for him to be dropped, but with Falcao out injured for an extended period, van Gaal stuck by his fellow Dutchman, whether through choice or due to the unavailability of his other star No. 9. van Gaal since stated on Friday that van Persie was “lucky” that circumstances meant he was not dropped during his poor spell.

However, it was to get worse before it got better for van Persie with a miserable display against his former club Arsenal in which he touched the ball just 12 times, three of which were from corners. This drew widespread scrutiny and the pressure only intensified. Prior to United’s next fixture, there were whispers that Wilson was set to start in place of van Persie. However, Wilson did not make the squad due to illness and so van Persie kept his place, starting initially as the No.10, a deliberate ploy by van Gaal to get him on the ball more and rebuild his confidence.

This was the game in which the pendulum began to swing for van Persie, with his teammates finding his runs and supplying him with the ball to greater effect, the highlight being a trademark van Persie blaster high into the roof of the net from the edge of the box. His celebration, with arms outstretched and relief etched across his face screamed “I’ve still got it.” The goal also showed a return of his instinctive, merciless, finishing prowess, and a sign that he could be about to rediscover the form that made him one of the most renowned strikers in the Premier League’s history.

The best players can dig their team out of a whole when they are struggling and that is exactly what van Persie did just over a week after his goal vs Hull, turning in a fantastic man of the match display, which paled in comparison to his quite awful teammates on the night. United mustered just 3 shots all game, with van Persie having all 3 and proving to be the difference between the teams with two lethal finishes as it somehow ended 2-1 in favour of the Reds. Despite his goals showing a resurgence in form was now in full swing, perhaps the most pleasing aspect of this game was that he had touched the ball 45 times, a huge improvement individually in a similarly poor performance to Arsenal away two weeks prior.

van Persie then followed this up with another stand out performance against Liverpool, providing a goal and assist a piece, having 48 touches and working hard to quickly close down the opposition and win the ball back. A couple of second half incidents in particular stand out in my mind, first where he fought off a grappling Steven Gerrard (which saw the midfielder booked) showing great strength and desire rather than taking the freekick, later followed by a sumptuous piece of skill in which he pulled the ball under control, away from the challenge of Toure and attempted a rasping lob over Jones.

It is spirited qualities such as these which United fans love about van Persie. It is also worth noting that like most strikers, van Persie is a creature of confidence and thrives best when the goals are flowing and the serenading is plentiful. Now his task is to maintain this level of performance and help United continue their upward trajectory.

Written by Tom Chambers

Tom Chambers

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