Quite clearly for a striker, Danny Welbeck does not score anywhere near enough goals to justify a selection ahead of Robin Van Persie or Wayne Rooney. On Wednesday though, he operated on the left flank instead, where Juan Mata usually occupies, and turned in a fantastic display as Manchester United overcame Olympiakos 3-0 at Old Trafford in the Champions League.
Among the United fans, Welbeck seems to polarize opinions. He doesn’t score enough, as many point out, but he does a lot more in the totality of a game than a lot of strikers do. He is the complete opposite of a player like Javier Hernandez. Hernandez is your typical goal-scorer and goal poacher, but apart from inside the box, Hernandez is very ineffective anywhere else. Welbeck is the opposite. He lacks the goals of Hernandez, but he does have a profound effect on games with his ability to run with the ball, draw fouls, drive into the opposition’s box and be a constant menace.
Against Olympiakos he was exceptional. Playing in Mata’s position, he had the kind of impact and work rate that Mata hasn’t even thought about lately, never mind done. The England international pressed aggressively at every opportunity, hustled and harried for the ball and when he had it, was a threat in attack. In defense of Mata, wide-left is not his best position, but with Rooney at the club, where did he expect to play when he signed?
It leaves David Moyes with a decision to make for the rest of the season. Do you persist with Mata, even though he is having little effect on games? Or do you drop the £37 million signing and play the proactive Welbeck?
Against Liverpool last weekend in the Premier League, Mata and Adnan Januzaj cost United massively. Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini were left to fend for themselves against four Liverpool midfielders and, obviously, they got totally overrun. Mata and Januszj were just bystanders as their teammates toiled in vain — no help or attempt to turn the tide. It went on all game and Liverpool ran riot. Moyes could of substituted Mata, but imagine the crowd reaction if he did whilst United were behind … when they needed a goal? It’s a difficult problem to have.
Could you have imagined Welbeck just standing and watching, waiting for the ball? Not at all. He would have been doing all he could to help his team get a foot in the game. On the ball, he would have dragged United up the pitch with his running power and ability to draw fouls. Mata made it to the 87th minute before he was taken off, some didn’t even know he was on. Moyes can keep faith in the Spaniard but in all honesty, wide on the left is not where he wants to play, it is not where he is most effective either.
But it is where Welbeck can be effective — if he plays. And he should play because of his merit; he deserves it. Whether Moyes thinks he does is what really counts though. If he persists with Mata, then he is hoping that he improves and he is hoping that he begins to have more of an impact. Playing Welbeck — you know what you will get. Is that what Moyes wants though? Maybe, maybe not. But what Mata is offering right now, nobody wants.