Considering the circumstances that have surrounded United’s first half of the season, it’d be a tad premature and probably downright foolish to read too much into yesterday’s performance for, good as the 3-0 win at Villa was, we’ve already been inundated with false dawns and moments when “United turned the corner” this season.
While feet will be better left firmly rooted on the ground, it’s hard not to feel happy for Danny Welbeck who, after a season plagued by injuries and niggles, delivered the sort of performance every United fan know he’s capable of, apart from those who consider Welbz a waste of space and a player not fit to wear the shirt – which, truth be told, could be said about at least a couple of other elements of the squad.
For a player who has always kept to himself, has never been involved in any controversies on and off the pitch, Welbeck splits opinion with the same brutal impact normally reserved for some of his colleagues – names will not be named – with United fans either in awe of his unquestionable technical qualities and dedication to the shirt or furious at his lack of composure in front of goal.
The United striker might never become a 25-goal-a-season man nor will he ever be asked to provide the bulk of United’s goalscoring return but, as he has shown for England, he’s more than capable to find the net with consistency, thus alleviating the pressure from Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie.
In that respect, yesterday’s win at Villa could prove to be a turning point for Welbeck, who benefited from the Dutchman’s absence and was awarded a rare start up-front, rather than in his familiar role wide on the left – a position from which even the most versatile of strikers would struggle to be prolific.
Last month, Van Persie’s injury opened the door for Shinji Kagawa to be deployed in his favourite number 10 position, with Wayne Rooney leading the line up-front but, after an impressive display against Leverkusen, the Japanese failed to make the most of his opportunity against Spurs and Everton.
Kagawa’s presence in behind Rooney meant Welbeck was yet again shifted wide to the left, a position he occupies diligently but one that stifles Welbeck’s attacking instincts, as managers ask him to spend precious energies in tracking back.
However, with Kagawa still not fit to play after his indigestion – these, it’s worth remembering, are professional footballers we’re talking about, not kids gorging themselves silly on jellies – David Moyes opted to leave Rooney in the number 10 position, with Welbeck up-front and Adnan Januzaj and Antonio Valencia providing plenty of pace and width.
The effects were immediate, with Welbeck receiving most of his passes in the final third through the middle rather than out wide, while the 16 passes he received from Antonio Valencia made them the second-highest pass combination in the game, a telling figure of how involved Welbeck was in every United’s move yesterday.
Welbeck’s two goals were undoubtedly pleasing, but the most satisfying aspect of his game yesterday was the number of shots he attempted, which goes to illustrate the point that, when deployed up-front, Danny is capable of showing a more selfish side, as many fans have hoped for years, tired of seeing him setting up team-mates rather than having a go himself.
Furthermore, while he might not be a traditional centre-forward, Welbeck’s dynamism and pace make allowed him and Wayne Rooney to repeatedly swap positions going forward, as United produced some of the best attacking football of their season, with Valencia’s crosses strangely precise and Januzaj’s runs into the box providing what United had been missing for too long.
For all the criticism Moyes has got since taking over from Sir Alex Ferguson, United were superb going forward yesterday and Welbeck’s presence was pivotal to his side’s fluid attacking display and with games coming thick and fast over the festive period, the England international could be a crucial factor if United are to climb up the table.
Consistency will be key for Welbeck, whose season took the wrong turn after a double on the opening day at Swansea, but the feeling is that he might be about to turn a corner and a solid goalscoring return will do him and United wonders. His goal at Bernabeu last season, showed that he has a feeling for the big occasion, now it’s time to make every week a big occasion.