Pitchside Europe

Is Welbeck ready to fill United’s Van Persie void?

Manchester United's 3-0 victory away to Aston Villa would have boosted David Moyes in more ways than one. Not only did the Red Devils end a run of four games without a win, but the Scot saw the goals come from two unlikely sources.

With the news that Robin van Persie is out for a month, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck, the latter especially, have shown that they are able to step up and offset the loss of the Dutchman's goal-scoring prowess.

Cleverley certainly has his critics, but Welbeck in particular has polarised opinion among United fans for a while. He is highly-rated by some, but dismissed by others as not good enough for the club.

Where Welbeck scored his four goals this season

A constant criticism of the 23-year-old is his lack of goals. For instance, he scored just once in the league last season. Overall he has just 24 goals in 116 appearances for United, which is a hugely underwhelming return.

As a striker, naturally he is expected to score regularly, especially for a club of the stature of United's. Often overlooked, however, is the fact that he is played out of position on the flanks more often than not. He needs regular playing time in his preferred position if he is to improve his goal return.

"If you asked Danny, he would see himself as a striker," Moyes says. "But what gets you a game as a striker? Goals."

It's a fair point, but of Welbeck's seven league starts under Moyes, he has started up front just twice. With van Persie ruled out and Javier Hernandez not exactly in favour, Welbeck can expect more opportunities in his favoured role. And given the recent changes to his training regime, it seems he's ready to grab them with both hands.

Welbeck heat map v Villa

"We just said, 'Every day, give yourself an extra 10-15 minutes at the end of every session and practice all different types of finishing - inside the box, outside the box, heading - and let’s see if we can get more goals from you.' He has taken heed and, if you remember when he got through against Villa on the right and just pulled it past the post, it was similar to what he’s been practising regularly," Moyes added.

Welbeck has all the attributes necessary to be one of the best strikers around. For starters, his work rate is excellent; he is always tracking back, trying to close down the opposition. So far this season, for example, he is making an average of 1.3 tackles and one interception per game. He also likes to drift wide as well as drop into midfield in order to link up with team-mates.

He is also very strong and has good awareness. Regarding the latter attribute, his deft back-flick to set up Cleverley for a shot in the second half of the Villa game is a fine example.

His only real problem has been his finishing. Too often, he hesitates, allowing the shooting opportunity to go by. Or he scuffs his shot, getting little power and poor direction. And then there are times when he just gets it all wrong, firing high or wide into the crowd behind the goal.

Of course, not playing up front and thus failing to get into goal-scoring positions as regularly as he would like so he can get that in-game finishing practice hasn't helped him. But that's where the extra training Welbeck has undertaken will come in handy.

With a decent, morale-boosting brace under his belt from the Villa game, hopefully Welbeck can finally go on to prove his worth to Manchester United. With van Persie out of his way for a while, he would hardly get a better opportunity to do so.