With Manchester United’s second round tie with Real Madrid so finely balanced, there are many questions that will be answered come Tuesday evening when the sides again lock horns. Is Utd’s away goal in the Bernabeu as crucial as many would like to believe; will Cristiano Ronaldo take the tie by storm; and, most importantly for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, can United topple the Spanish giants without their man-of-the-moment, Robin van Persie, if he fails to recover fully from injury?
As far as debut seasons go, Van Persie’s first up north has been pretty spectacular. Scoring 23 times in 32 games, Van Persie has quickly cemented himself as not only Utd’s best striker, but as their most important player. Fresh from his ‘one man team’ exploits with Arsenal, and as injury free as he has been throughout his career, Van Persie is now Utd’s attacking fulcrum, outlet, and overall superstar. So impressive has his impact been that some fans now see Wayne Rooney, once the jewel in the Red Devil’s crown, as an overhyped luxury, who often doesn’t show up in games. Some achievement for the Dutchman, who is now leading the United team towards a possible treble.
Van Persie led the line superbly in the first leg, hitting the bar and having a shot cleared off the line for his efforts. The idea of taking on Madrid without him must be almost incomprehensible for the United faithful. Having suffered a bizarre hip injury during the 2-0 win against QPR last week, Sir Alex Ferguson said yesterday that the striker is ‘ok’, and will be available for the Premier League game against Norwich this afternoon. While he has been included in the Saturday match squad, he will surely not be risked, and United will be tentatively preparing for a situation come Tuesday where their main man cannot take centre stage.
The former United defender, Quinton Fortune, believes Van Persie’s participation is not pivotal to United’s hopes. Speaking on Wednesday, Fortune explained that it is the team that has to persevere on Tuesday, rather than rely on the Dutch master,
“Robin will be a huge loss if he’s not playing, but it’s about the team.” Fortune told BBC Radio Manchester,
“I think its United’s time. They’re hungry for success again.”
What has remained a constant throughout Sir Alex Ferguson’s 26 years in charge of United is his team’s unfailing determination under pressure, regardless of the players on the pitch. While the team of 1999 immortalised this ‘never say die’ attitude, it has remained up until the present day.
While opposing fans might scoff at the frequent inclusion of the likes of Jonny Evans, Michael Carrick and Danny Welbeck, it is these players who consistently perform solidly and sacrifice everything for the team, and ultimately yield silverware come the end of the season. Indeed it was Welbeck who scored the away goal in the first leg in Madrid, and Michael Carrick’s passing range has been exemplary all season. Ryan Giggs, who signed a one year extension at the end of last week, and Paul Scholes, players who continue to defy the sands of time, are still able to perform at the high standards required of them when Sir Alex needs to inject some priceless experience.
Currently 12 points ahead of reigning champions and bitter rivals Man City in the league, Utd have ground out results, often coming from behind, and have always fought right up until the final whistle. Sir Alex has used his squad to great effect this season, and his players always fight to death for their manager, and have more often than not, come out on top.
While some clubs rely on one or two players, and not unreasonably, Manchester United’s absolute strength has always come from the squad rather than the individual.
With that in mind, the possible loss of Phil Jones, the versatile 21-year-old defender, will be of similar concern to United. While the Dutch striker has hit the headlines with his goal-scoring exploits, it was the selfless Jones, not a first team regular this season, that came into the side at defensive midfield, added extra steel to Untited’s backline against the raw talent of Madrid’s frontline, and typified the United squad’s unselfish approach.
Jones was everywhere, frustrating Madrid at every turn. Karim Benzema came off frustrated by the workman-like performance of Jones and his fellow defenders; and Ronaldo’s initial exuberance was quelled, as much as it is possible to shackle the second best player in the world, a man who has scored more goals than he has played games in Spain.
While Madrid enjoyed more freedom against the relatively inexperienced Rafael, his team-mates were there to mop up the pieces, and it was the solid team performance that ensured that the usually free flowing Spaniards came away with only one goal to their name.
Fortune echoed these sentiments, and maintained that United’s strength in depth will be the key,
“Robin’s been a key player for the team and the job Phil Jones did over there in the first leg was outstanding. These are important players.” Fortune told the BBC,
“It won’t be easy but I do believe United are capable of beating Madrid without Robin and Phil.”
If United are able to topple Madrid, it will have to be a collective effort. If Van Persie is not fully fit, United may have to start him on the bench, but they have other options. Although some may not fully believe in Welbeck’s overall qualities, he is able to lead the line, albeit without the natural flair and ability that comes so easily to players of Van Persie’s calibre. Hernandez is also a possibility, a man who is more than likely to grab a goal due to his expert predatory instincts. And Wayne Rooney, the man under pressure as Van Persie continues to grow in stature, may just find that stepping up against one of the world’s best teams, may just be the remedy that he and United need as we head towards the business end of the season.
Do United fans think you could cope should RVP miss out on Tuesday? Get involved in the comments section below.