Van Persie toes the line

Posted by Mark Payne

ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images) Robin van Persie returned to his scoring ways last week versus Stoke.

Robin van Persie dominates the build up to Manchester United's fixture against Fulham this weekend for reasons good and bad. United manager David Moyes announced that the Dutchman was "fine," injury-free and would be back in the lineup. Meanwhile, an unconfirmed story from a national newspaper states that van Persie feels his long-term health is being risked by being forced to play through the pain barrier.

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Eyebrows were initially raised when van Persie was left out of the squad for United's crucial Champions League game against Real Sociedad. At the time, Moyes revealed that van Persie was having pain-killing injections in his toe and that he was given rest to help him heal.

Upon his return against Stoke, van Persie scored the opening goal and looked sharp alongside Wayne Rooney. In the aftermath of that haphazard victory, the striker was asked directly about his relationship with Moyes. "It's fine," he replied deadpan. But the story re-emerged this morning.

It wouldn't be the first time a newspaper story had no credence, but van Persie's demeanour has not been as joyful this term as when he arrived at the club. Regardless, he is part of a striking team that has hit form after the mid-week crushing of Norwich City.

Javier Hernandez and Rooney are also both scoring freely in the event that van Persie would need a rest. There could be no conceivable reason to put pressure on the Dutchman at this time. It must be assumed that if he is playing, he is fit. Danny Welbeck has also returned to training this week, but the game against Fulham is too early for his comeback.

United are quietly finding a bit of form after their highly publicised nightmares against West Brom and Southampton. They are unbeaten in six and have registered three wins on the trot in all competitions. However, they were dismal in the first half against Stoke last week, and at the very least an improvement is expected.

Former Liverpool great John Barnes speculated this week that United's travails this season were largely down to the players rather than the manager. "It's obvious the players have taken their foot off the pedal because subconsciously they are not as focused and as driven as they were when Sir Alex Ferguson was there. What's happening at United has nothing to do with David Moyes, it's all down to the players," he said.

Another manager who has a right to feel hard done by is Fulham's Martin Jol. The pressure on Jol is ludicrous. He is an experienced and decent top-flight manager and his previous club, Tottenham Hotspur, have not done noticeably better without him than they did with him. He is rumoured to be in line for redundancy if Fulham lose against United. Who do they propose to replace him with? Paolo Di Canio? Ian Holloway?

But "if" is a dangerous word. If United win, they will head into their fixture against Arsenal in 10 days, full of confidence and ready to make a statement. If they lose, their title defence will be as good as finished before Guy Fawkes night. Such is the nature of a week in football. By the time United do face Arsenal, van Persie could be the happiest player in the world again. A goal and a smile against Jol's side would be a step in the right direction.

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