In certainly the most important and eventful window of Manchester United’s history, the club has managed to sign Colombian hitman Radamel Falcao on a season-long loan deal worth £20m, with an option to buy the player. A statement of intent as we would call it, Man United completed its second marquee signing albeit on loan to bolster its already heavy forward line. The Colombian, known for his natural ability to find the back of the net, will wear the #9 shirt at the English club and has recovered from a serious Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury that kept him out of the World Cup, to reinvigorate his career in England’s premier institution.
Falcao’s arrival has posed several questions regarding the selection headache Van Gaal will have to deal with, in order to employ a formation that would enable maximum utilisation of Man United’s attacking riches. With 3 genuine top quality forwards at his mercy and an array of quality to support them in the likes of Angel Di Maria, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera – the Dutch manager who is yet to win a competitive game at his new club, will be put under considerable pressure to devise a set-up that would get them winning as soon as possible. Before that, let us look into the numbers of the three strikers and draw a comparison among them to see what really distinguishes these players and who could be more decisive in front of the goal for United this season.
The table below contains some of the statistics of Robin Van Persie (in 2012/13) pitted against Wayne Rooney (in 2013/14) and new signing Radamel Falcao (for Atletico in 2012/13). (Stats from Squawka.com)
Robin Van Persie in 2012/13 was nothing short of unstoppable. He literally dragged the team through the finish line so many times during that season, thereby playing a pivotal role in the club’s 20th title-winning campaign. He almost scored in all the big clashes during that season; crunch games against the likes of Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal and proved to be the difference between United and the rest that played catch-up.
Robin Van Persie, not really known for his aerial prowess has surprisingly stood out in this comparison with a superior 48% aerial duel success rate per 90 minutes. With a total of 4 shots per 90 minutes, the Dutchman has been the player most likely to shoot in a 50-50 situation, has managed to average 0.75 goals per 90 minutes only bettered by the new signing. Not afraid to try from distance, Van Persie has averaged 1.15 shots from outside the box that is on par with Falcao but trumped by the captain. When fit, Van Persie is as good as any in the league and can improve any team in the world as he’s showed his quality in the last 3 seasons – barring the last season where injuries got the better of him.
Wayne Rooney was handed the armband this season by the manager, as a reward for his unquestionable work ethic and remarkable consistency on the pitch, if not off it. He was often deployed as a central midfielder by the last two managers due to the obvious deficiencies in the squad that existed then and his ability to play there as well and run the midfield as and when needed. But last season, Wayne Rooney played up top predominantly or often played off the centre-forward, where he was able to be more expressive with fewer defensive duties. His productivity was decent enough if not exceptional, he managed to average 0.63 goals every 90 minutes – his set pieces were up a notch and he was also able to rack up a good number of assists – averaging 0.37 assists per 90 minutes, which is well above what Falcao managed at Atletico. Shading the aerial goals per 90 minutes statistic with an average of 0.11 per 90, Rooney has managed to win fewer aerial duels than his counterparts. Rooney certainly is more equipped than the other two when it comes to shooting from distance and getting something out of it, has managed to score more goals from outside the box than the other two, comfortably. With the signing of Falcao, the captain is odds on to be pushed to a more dynamic midfield role – a role he would most certainly associate himself with in the near future. Whether Van Gaal has something else up his sleeve, remains to be seen.
Radamel Falcao has always been obsessed with scoring. Obsessed is the word he himself mentioned when asked about his style of play and attitude towards the game. Two years ago at the peak of his powers he said,
“I never think I’m not going to score, I never panic, I never start to worry,” he said two years ago. “I believe I will score. I just know, no matter how long I have to wait, that the goal will come. Football without goals doesn’t work. Goals give the game meaning, they give value to football. I have always been passionate about goals. Obsessed.”
His obsession for putting the ball at the back of the net is justified when you look at the sheer number of goals he’s managed to score for Porto and Atletico. After moving to Portugal in 2009, Falcao scored 72 goals in 87 games for Porto and won a clean sweep of titles including the 2011 Europa League. He then made a £35m move to Atletico in 2011 – where he scored 70 times in 91 games, securing another Europa League title – before joining recently-promoted Monaco for £51m in the summer of 2013. A ridiculous goals-to-games ratio of 0.87 in his final season with Atletico will be enough to excite the Old Trafford faithful as he is one one of the most prolific strikers in the market today. An average of 0.81 goals per 90 from inside the box goes to show that Falcao means business when he gets the ball anywhere near the goal. He can be a more dynamic option as he offers more aerially than the other two – an out and out striker that can get a goal out of a scrappy set-piece header in the dying moments. He can be the perfect outlet for Man United’s attacks and be more decisive than the other two even though he’s currently quite far from his absolute best.
Falcao may not be able to play centre-half at United where the issues are more glaringly obvious. In a window, where the club cared little about the team’s defensive weaknesses, the team sure has strengthened enough to beat most teams in the league and with no European commitments, the manager will only have time aplenty to bed in the new signings and get the best out of them. It looks like Louis Van Gaal and Man United might follow the well-worn cliche of ‘Attack is the best form of defence‘ style of play. If that is so, Falcao could be the beating heart of it.