Ahead of Manchester United's clash with Chelsea on Sunday, former Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher has raised questions regarding the club's quality in attack - a controversial twist, considering many deem this area as the Red Devils' greatest strength.
Writing in his weekly column for the Daily Mail, Carragher explained, "Tackling the title favourites is Van Gaal’s biggest test since he became manager and all over the pitch there will be key battles, not least whether his attackers can come up with the wit and skill to outfox John Terry and Gary Cahill, the best central defensive pairing in the Premier League."
Louis van Gaal's side face Jose Mourinho's league leaders on Sunday, with the Dutchman's side already 10 points off the pace. As has been the case in the majority of United's fixtures this season, the outcome of this game is likely to come down to individual errors, particularly among the back-four.
However, Carragher believes that United could struggle in the attacking half, particularly when faced with the challenge of overcoming Chelsea's solid defensive partnership, who have conceded just eight goals thus far - the second lowest total in the English top flight.
He continued, "Van Persie recently turned 31, Rooney was 29 on Friday — the same age Falcao will be when he celebrates his next birthday. The concern for clubs when strikers get into that age range is whether they will maintain their standards and consistency, never mind get better."
While concerns regarding the club's defence remain rife, Carragher believes that the club hierarchy should be more anxious about their long-term options in attack. Louis van Gaal is blessed with an abundance of youthful talent in defence, but the age and form of his 'five-star' strike force could quickly become a problem.
"Improvement is not something Van Gaal has to worry about with his defence," he said. "Luke Shaw is 19, Phil Jones only 22; Marcos Rojo is a 24-year-old who has played in a World Cup final, while Tyler Blackett is 20. United may need another centre back but that quartet’s best years are ahead of them. Can you say the same about the strikers?"
Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Radamel Falcao have scored six goals between them this term, an inferior total to Chelsea striker Diego Costa, who has nine for himself. With the trio each nearing their thirties, few would argue that they are as prolific as they once were. Carragher makes this claim, with particular emphasis on Van Persie.
"If you were going to back a coach to get Van Persie thriving, you would pick Van Gaal, his compatriot, but he has looked off the pace," he wrote. "Last season he had to contend with the old criticisms that he was injury-prone and we didn’t see evidence of the great partnership with Rooney that we all expected.
"But now he (Van Persie) is 31, you have to wonder whether we have seen his best. That is a question I also asked about Rooney earlier in the season."
|Goals||Conversion Rate (%)||Apps||Mins|
|Robin van Persie||2||14.29||7||586|
"As for Falcao, the issue with him is intriguing. He was the best out-and-out striker in the world not so long ago and we have seen flashes of quality since he arrived at Old Trafford, but he is coming to the most demanding league in the world on the back of a cruciate- ligament injury."
The Colombian has one goal to his name, having made five appearances, but question remaining over his fitness. Once fully recovered, he could be the man to score 20 or more goals a season for the Old Trafford outfit - firing the club back to the summit of the Premier League table.
Carragher concludes by suggesting a sense of hastiness in Van Gaal's decision to sell 23-year-old Danny Welbeck to top flight rivals Arsenal. The Dutchman offloaded the England international claiming he was ‘below United’s standards’, but with years ahead of him, it was a surprise that he wasn't retained.
"There will come a point in the next couple of years when United have to replace Van Persie, Rooney and Falcao but, to do that, they are going to have to spend in excess of £80m to bring in two strikers," he wrote. "It makes you wonder, then, why Van Gaal was so quick to off-load Danny Welbeck to Arsenal."