Man United have found their own Dirk Kuyt in the shape of Danny Welbeck
Danny Welbeck is fast becoming Man Utd's version of Dirk Kuyt after an impressing against Real Madrid, writes Kieran Beckles
Danny Welbeck is fast becoming Sir Alex Ferguson’s equivalent to former Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt after the Manchester United striker impressed against Real Madrid on Tuesday night.
With 58 minutes gone, Welbeck was set to be named man-of-the-match for his telling contribution to what looked increasingly like being another great European night at Old Trafford, justifying his selection ahead of Wayne Rooney.
But Nani’s red card for a high tackle on Álvaro Arbeloa and Luka Modrić’s impact in a 32-minute cameo denied the England international his moment of glory, and the Red Devils their place in quarter-finals.
Robin van Persie’s £24m switch to United from Arsenal in August would have been a blow to Welbeck after the youngster scored a promising nine goals and showed signs of a blossoming partnership with Wayne Rooney towards the end of the 2011-12 campaign.
The Longsight-born forward transferred his domestic form to the international stage too, netting arguably the pick of England’s European championship goals in a thrilling 3-2 group-stage victory over Sweden.
But at the start of the season, Welbeck development was in danger of being stunted as he was pushed down the pecking order by the Premier League’s top goal scorer (for the 2011-12 campaign), while Javier Hernández showed the enviable knack of scoring whenever Ferguson handed the Mexican game time.
Unsurprisingly, Welbeck has struggled to rival prolific Van Persie in terms of goals this season – the Dutch striker has 19 Premier League strikes to his name in comparison to young team-mate’s one strike, which came in a 4-2 victory over Stoke in September.
Even veteran left-back Patrice Evra has managed four league goals to leave Welbeck trailing in eighth place in the United goal-scoring charts.
But he offers more than just goals to the Red Devils and he is an asset clearly valued by Ferguson, who has persisted with the striker despite a poor strike rate in the Premier League and Europe.
From an attacking point of view, Welbeck’s pace and trickery draws defenders and creates space for his team-mates, helping Van Persie to thrive in a central role.
But Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t opt to start the 22-year-old ahead of £30m-rated Wayne Rooney for just his creative attributes – it was his tactical discipline which secured a place in United XI.
Welbeck showed he can fulfil his defensive duties as he cut off the supply line to Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso at the Bernabeu, stifling the home side’s metronomic passer.
The England star enjoyed similar success at Old Trafford on Tuesday night as he restricted Alonso to short passes, which failed to penetrate the home side’s back four.
It meant Ángel di María and Cristiano Ronaldo failed to gain a foothold in the game after the pair had dragged Barcelona’s defence every which way in a 3-1 victory in the Copa del Rey semi-final seven days earlier.
It was testament to the impact that Welbeck had that Nani’s sending off and Modrić’s subsequent introduction was the watershed moment for Madrid, who could only get their creative juices flowing with a man advantage.
The United striker will insist his bread and butter is still goal scoring and creating opportunities for team-mates, but he managed to find the perfect balance between hounding Alonso and offering an outlet going forward.
Welbeck offered more cutting edge than Van Persie with his swashbuckling runs from midfield resulting in one blocked shot by Raphael Varene before drawing an instinctive save from Diego Lopez.
It was workmanlike from Welbeck who is rivalling Kuyt. The Netherlands international was valued by former Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez for his defensive qualities as much as what he gave going forward.
The 32-year-old, like Welbeck, was often deployed in a supporting role on the wing, charged with getting forward to help Fernando Torres but also pegging back attacking full-backs.
He also developed a reputation for scoring important goals in some of Liverpool’s biggest league and cup ties during a seven–year Anfield career before moving to Turkey’s Fenerbahçe in August.
Ferguson’s plans for Welbeck remain unclear with the United manager spoilt for choice in the striking department, while also tinkering with his formation to accommodate silky Shinji Kagawa.
The England star appears most comfortable in a central position but with Van Persie set to occupy that role for imminent future, Welbeck could be set to continue his supporting role.
It would be no surprise to see the 22-year-old handed a similar role in United’s FA Cup quarter-final against Chelsea on Sunday.