Van Persie reverting to form, but tempts fate

Posted by Musa Okwonga

The elephant has been tiptoeing very carefully but not all that elegantly around the Old Trafford dressing room, trying its earnest best not to make a sound.

Robin van Persie’s recent lack of goals is a subject that most at the club have tactfully avoided, perhaps politely waiting for the Dutch forward to raise it himself, which he did in a recent interview with The Guardian.

Van Persie -- who has returned to scoring form for the Netherlands at least, scoring three times in two matches -- noted: "I'm in a lesser period at my club right now and it's nice to score some goals for the national team to get through that . . . The key is to keep working hard. I've also missed some luck. If you analyse my chances, my efforts went just over or on or next to the woodwork.

"You always have these kind of periods in a season and it's important to train hard, do a lot of finishing work and then, all of a sudden, it will get back and the goals will come. I have quality. I haven't lost that along the way."

Van Persie also said: "I'll probably win my first championship, [which] is very nice . . . I'm really thrilled about it. Not winning titles has given me quite some pain and it has made me grayer."

The timing of these words, with all respect to the illustrious marksman, could not have been more awkward, as he himself hinted later in the conversation. "We have to go to Sunderland and West Ham, and we have to play Chelsea [in Monday's FA Cup replay] and if we win, we play back-to-back against City in the league and the FA Cup semifinal. Then we have Stoke."

The paranoid Manchester United fans -- of whom there are several more following their team's capitulation to Manchester City in last year's title race -- will have uneasily noted van Persie's words. They are something of a temptation of fate.

This fixture list is one where, quite conceivably, they could see their lead cut to five points -- say United lost to both Chelsea and Manchester City, and drew against Sunderland and Stoke, while City won all of their games in the same period. Such a margin -- a five-point lead with five games to go -- would signal cause for alarm.

Van Persie's return to his most lethal, therefore, could not have been better-timed. Manchester United still have a chance of obtaining a Premier League-FA Cup double, which would be a powerful response to Manchester City's league win last year. At the same time van Persie, though he does not seem overly fussed about individual accolades, needs to ward off the increasingly compelling challenges of Liverpool's Luis Suarez and Tottenham's Gareth Bale for the Player of the Year award.

Both Bale and Suarez have excelled in recent months whilst the Dutchman has faltered. In fact, Suarez has been so outstanding throughout this campaign that without him Liverpool would be languishing dangerously low in the table. Van Persie therefore needs a fresh injection of goals to stake a superior claim.

One subject van Persie didn't touch upon, though, was his miss against Real Madrid late in the opening leg of the recent Champions League tie. It is the one significant blot on his debut season at Old Trafford, the one occasion on which he did not take an opportunity with the startling ruthlessness that has become his hallmark.

For that moment, he was a player whom his adoring supporters did not recognise. Judging by his recent form for the Netherlands, it is not a side he will show them again anytime soon.

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