Dimitar Berbatov has been called a lot of things. “Languid” if you’re a fan, “lazy” if you’re not, he divides opinion amongst Manchester United fans more than anyone else. Given the sparking form of Wayne Rooney towards the end of the season, along with the emergence of Javier Hernandez and the return of Danny Welbeck to his parent club, it looked like Berbatov’s chances of getting decent game time this year might be limited, even given the fact that he was the Premiership’s top scorer last season.
The astonishing Champions League final snub, where he didn’t even make the bench, was seen by many to be the final straw. His position at the club would be untenable, they said. His patience would finally be tested to the limit. However, credit to the Bulgarian genius. He’s knuckled down and got on with pre-season. What role exactly does he have to play in the coming season?
One of the biggest criticisms of Berbatov at United was that he didn’t score enough goals. Five strikers scored for Manchester United in last seasons Premiership, however, and Berbatov outscored them all, both in terms of pure number, and goals-per-minute, pipping even the prolific super-sub Javier Hernandez.
Although Owen has a fairly decent strike rate, it’s important to remember that he only played just over 200 minutes all season and, but for his goal against Blackpool on the last day, would be looking at similar figures to Rooney and Macheda. Rooney’s poor return is amplified by his absolutely woeful start to the season. Come spring, he couldn’t stop scoring, and he will be looking to continue that form into the new year.
If Berbatov can continue in the same vein, then he carves himself out a niche as a prolific goalscorer. That’s surely the best niche to have as a striker. But what of those who say his form was a fluke, and that he’ll never hit the same heights again? Those who say that, given Rooney’s qualities, he has to start, and Hernandez wins the battle of the partners as his currency is goals? Can Berbatov’s chance creation salvage things for him?
Partly. Whilst Berbatov isn’t the creative force that Wayne Rooney is (Wayne creates better than a chance a half for his team-mates), he certainly contributes more than Hernandez or Owen. This could lead to suggestions that he’s occupying the same space in the team as Rooney without being as effective, at least if you buy into the argument that he’s not going to score as much this season compared to last. Rooney and Hernandez compliment each other better as they’re at opposite ends of the spectrum whilst Berbatov is in danger of being too middle of the road.
Where exactly can Berbatov find his niche, then?It’s in the air that Berbatov offers his unique contribution. Whilst Rooney wins a third of his duels and Hernandez barely a quarter, Berbatov isn’t far off winning half of his battles in the air. Given that Manchester United like to play with wingers and that, as we saw in my last post, they can look forward to enjoying top-class supply now that Ashley Young has joined, Berbatov could really make hay from crosses this season coming.
There will always be those who prefer Rooney and Hernandez as a partnership. They are more mobile, direct, and obviously threatening. Berbatov offers a more subtle threat, but one that’s just as lethal. When United require a change of pace next season, Dimitar could be the perfect man for us to turn to.