Manchester United’s defeat to Real Madrid at Old Trafford left the manager and dressing room ‘distraught’ but while controversial decisions certainly impacted the game, perhaps Robin van Persie might wish he’d had more of an impact on the scoreline on Tuesday.
The Dutchman has been in fine form all season (and last season) finding the back of the net 23 times for United in all competitions – he is the Premier League’s top scorer with an impressive tally of 19.
"I had three (chances) in the second half, especially the one just after I hit the bar. That was a big chance. I should have put that one in. I just slightly mis-kicked it, didn't hit it properly," admitted the striker.
1) The Goalkeeper
Real Madrid’s Diego Lopez had the best game of his career. 15 shots were fired at his goal, 11 of them on target over the course of 96 minutes and he dealt impressively with 9 United corners.
His manager rightfully handed him full credit for the team’s win and his own performance.
“To have a fantastic keeper who gives us victory is also part of the game. De Gea was the man of the match in Madrid and today the man of the match was Diego Lopez,” insisted Jose Mourinho.
His boss is correct in his assessment – David De Gea was behind their impressive display at the Bernabeu last month and Lopez, standing in for injured Iker Casillas did an immense job of keeper Van Persie and his teammates’ shots out.
2) Wayne Rooney on the bench
Sir Alex Ferguson opted to leave Wayne Rooney on the bench for the game – something which I discussed earlier in the week as a point of contention – along with Shinji Kagawa, the Englishman is the Red Devils’ most creative player.
The vision to find Van Persie and the pass to go with it is something Rooney has provided all season long, operating as a traditional number ten behind the Dutchman.
Rooney is second only to Steven Gerrard in the Premier League’s assists table this season – he has made 9 goals in the league alone and by the time he was brought on after Nani’s dismissal, it was a tough ask for him to really affect the game.
3) The Perfect Goal
However, there is something of a recurring theme in Van Persie’s continental escapades. His exceptional technical ability means he sometimes tries to do too much.
His movement is superb in and around the goal and his finishing is nothing short of exquisite but, in big games, he has a tendency to want to score the perfect goal.
With Arsenal last season he had the opportunity to take his team to extra time at the Emirates against AC Milan where Arsenal mounted a comeback from 4-0 on aggregate to 4-3.
Van Persie had the chance to keep the tie alive for the Gunners but he chose to chip the keeper Christian Abbiati who, by his own admission, said after the game that he felt himself lucky to have saved Van Persie’s shot.
Van Persie had a similar chance to score on Tuesday against Madrid and, again he tried to chip the ball over Lopez, who saved the shot. Sometimes he forgets that winning ugly is still a win.
4) Cristiano Ronaldo
Forgive me for my assertion here but I have a sneaking suspicion that Van Persie might have felt a little upstaged by Cristiano Ronaldo who was the man in the spotlight on his first return to Old Trafford.
Here’s my logic – when Van Persie faced Arsenal, he scored inside 5 minutes. That was a game that was all about him. He was the man in the limelight, he was the name on the back pages.
His lack of form for the Dutch national team last summer was evidence of the same problem. When he is not the main man in the spotlight, he often goes missing. That’s not his fault – at Arsenal he was the star of show and he’s accustomed to being exactly that – the star.
5) Higher quality opposition
He is used to Premier League opposition – at Arsenal and Manchester United he has spent the last 9 seasons in the English top tier.
In terms of being met with exceptional technical quality, like Real Madrid, from the defence to the forwards – all over the pitch these are skillful and tricky opponents, comfortable on the ball and wise to an intelligent forward.
That is not something he faces week in week out in the Premier League, or another domestic competition for that matter.
Defenders of the quality of Sergio Ramos, Rafael Varane and Pepe are used to intelligent movement from forwards, they are wise to the likes of Lionel Messi and Radamel Falcao so Robin van Persie, with all due respect, doesn’t scare them.
His threat is magnified by the Premier League because defenders are less used to dealing with a player of his technical ability which, in La Liga, is more commonplace.
Much the same can be said of players like Juan Mata, David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Cesc Fabregas – who all came from La Liga and stunned the Premier League.
I think the Premier League is a far tougher competition with a higher intensity and physical demand but the quality of even a player like Michu is evidence that La Liga sides have more flair players within their ranks in general.
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