Why Manchester United continue to walk a fine line with star

Manchester United striker Robin van PersieIt remains the same old story for Manchester United, yet they keep winning. And maybe that’s all that matters. Maybe the end result of three-points does enough to mask the troubling journey it took to navigate through 90-minutes of football. All it takes is one slip-up, one good team to come along and bring the Premier League leaders back down to earth. Even more concerning, perhaps all it takes is a Robin van Persie injury.

There is a sickening logic to rival football fans, those who wish nothing more than lengthy injuries to the best players of other clubs. Maybe instead of watching some of the finest footballers in this country like van Persie, we should beat the Premier League drum with players like Titus Bramble leading the charge.

But this isn’t a desire to see the Dutchman pick up an injury just to prove a point. This is also not a shifting of that stigma that United are now a one man team. Even so, is it such a bad thing to be given that tag when your best player is one of the top three players in the country?

Maybe there should be an inspection into the surroundings at the Madejski Stadium, for twice two top Premier League teams have gone to Reading and conceded a hatful of goals. Or maybe we should just come to the realisation that both of those teams provided a shocking display of defending on the day.

Rafael’s strop as he was substituted after 30-minutes was immature, yet so was his performance. He’s a title-winning full-back playing for one of the most decorated clubs in the country, a club that seems far removed from the probability of tumbling down the league table in a way that former rivals have done.

Or should we just look to the fact that the Brazilian is just not good enough? After all, shouldn’t that be the question when you’re torn apart by a winger whose name will be forgotten as soon the year is out? Rafael’s performance was just another reminder that a good weight of defensive personnel will do absolutely nothing if they’re all not collectively up to scratch.

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Some fans will look to the lack of a real leader in defence. For all his qualities, trophies and former status in the English game, Rio Ferdinand just doesn’t cut it anymore. But would Nemanja Vidic’s presence do a whole lot more for this team? He’s comfortably one of the best defenders in the league, but not even he can man his own post in the centre-back position and scurry over to right full-back to help out a struggling youngster. Can a player as good as he simply be the lone saviour in a team who conceded two goals from lost aerial duels—to Reading.

At the other end, it remains the case that van Persie is bailing the team out. Wayne Rooney has how many goals this season? Well it’s not enough. It’s unfortunate that Shinji Kagawa’s United career hasn’t really taken off yet due to injury, but to borrow a phrase from another manager, his return will be like a new signing.

It seemed strange when reports earlier this week suggested United had a deal in place with Borussia Dortmund for the transfer of Robert Lewandowski. But when you add up all the performances of the team so far this season, perhaps the only logical sense is to partner Kagawa with his former striker from Germany.

For now, though, van Persie remains the only notable pillar holding the team up in first place in the league. Even if we were to acknowledge the goal threats from the rest of the attacking half of the squad, the defence continues to let them down. They’ve let them down against a club who should be on their way back down into the Championship by the end of the season. They let them down against an Aston Villa side who shipped five against Manchester City only a week later. They’ve let them down in the Champions League and against ‘obscure’ teams whose names don’t even appear on FIFA 13.

There’s all manner of stats floating around as to where United would be if they didn’t have van Persie in the team. In fact, the same number of stats could be somewhere out there as to where Arsenal would be if van Persie was still in their team. But a club like Manchester United are far too prestigious to simply sit back in the knowledge that the Dutchman will keep firing them in. No amount of goals can erase his injury past. While a goal every game won’t always be enough to counter the continually leaky defence.