So it’s official. The worst striker in the Premier League plays for the team running away with it.
Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck has scored only one league goal all season…in 1204 minutes of football. And yet he is still picked ahead of forwards for whom goals come as naturally as blinking.
So is he really that bad? Or is he actually something of a paradox: the best worst striker in England?
Because despite not ticking every box of his job description, he is often seen as a crucial cog in the United machine; a player who contributes, who follows the plan; and it is for that reason that Sir Alex Ferguson holds him in such high regard.
Welbeck’s first goal for United was on his league debut against Stoke City – a 30-yard strike that flew into the top corner. He followed that up with a sublime curling effort against Derby County in the League Cup. Those two games gave a glimpse of a naturally-gifted goal-scorer that had fans purring.
So why, five years later, has Welbeck lost his scoring touch?
The truth is he was never that prolific. While his barren run is more a result of his energy and reliability than anything else.
When he was picked ahead of Wayne Rooney for the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Real Madrid, it wasn’t because he was more of a goal threat, but because he fit Ferguson’s plan.
He chases down, he pressures, he tracks back, he is an outlet: all facts that can also be said of Rooney. But somehow, Welbeck does them better.
And while it is easy to call Welbeck a poor striker for his lack of goals, a look at the positions he has most regularly taken up this season suggests otherwise.
In 17 starts this campaign, he has played as a central striker only twice. Instead he has been used predominantly as a winger, starting seven times on the left and four on the right, while on a further four occasions he has played behind a loan forward.
So perhaps Welbeck isn’t a striker any more. Perhaps his job is less to get goals and more to create them at one end and track back at the other.
Or perhaps we should remember that he is still only 22. And that he was one of seven players highlighted by the FA’s director of elite development Dan Ashworth as the future of English football.
The truth is that Welbeck is something of a conundrum. His energy is not in question. Nor is his passion to play. But he is a sporadically-sublime player who is more regularly seen charging about the pitch.
In which position his future lays is yet to be seen. In a disappointing year for United’s wingers, he has been a rare bright spark. But with the imminent arrival of Wilfried Zaha, he will have to up his game to keep his place.
Either that or the current worst striker in the Premier League may have to fight for a place up front.
What is your opinion of Welbeck? And which position do you see him occupying in the long term at United?
image: © vagueonthehow