According to reports last week, Louis van Gaal has told striker Danny Welbeck he can leave Manchester United this summer and the striker’s laboured performance against MK Dons will have done little to change his mind.
The United boss may have refused to comment on the details of the conversation but admitted to having a chat with Ryan Giggs and Welbeck on his future.
Welbeck, 23, has scored 20 goals so far in 90 Premier League appearances. He is well-liked by United fans and deserves to be for his outstanding work ethic alone but the perceived weaknesses in his game, specifically his finishing, always seems to have held him back from being a certified regular in United’s front line.
His advocates will contend that Welbeck is a player who shouldn’t be judged by his finishing and that it is the forward’s movement and link-up play that has always been his strength. When Sir Alex Ferguson picked him ahead of Wayne Rooney against Real Madrid in March of last year, it was because of his pace and threatening ability to get in behind the Spanish giants’ defence.
It was also because of Welbeck’s sheer energy. Those who prefer to see Javier Hernandez shown the door instead might also cite Welbeck’s ability to harry defenders into a panic as evidence that the Manchester native simply brings more of an overall contribution to the forward line.
If we take it as a given that Rooney and Robin van Persie are the first choice pairing, the statistics paint an interesting comparison of Welbeck and Hernandez. Welbeck scored nine Premier League goals last season, registering just one assist. Hernandez scored only four, registering two assists and both had a nearly identical successful pass percentage.
Welbeck’s numbers do not particularly fit the idea that he is a great link-up man and a poor finisher but perhaps that rather sums him up – a player still developing a role for himself. After all, he is still only 23 and far from the finished article.
If Louis van Gaal really would prefer to keep Chicharito on the books, it could still be Welbeck’s weakness at finishing that concerns him. The striker’s fatal flaw was most brutally exposed by the hesitant chip against Bayern Munich at Old Trafford back in April, which again overshadowed an otherwise decent performance.
However, the reports have still come as a huge surprise. Hernandez has done little thus far to prove he can cut it as a starter ahead of Robin Van Persie or Wayne Rooney and has subsequently been dropped from his international side.
The problem now is Welbeck knows that first-team football will be hard to come by behind under Van Gaal. If he should leave, his supporters will bemoan the lack of cover and creative attacking play which he can produce. His critics may argue that if you cannot finish comfortably week to week, you cannot expect to be a regular starter.
The reality is that in a squad desperately short of options, the forward line is the only element that remains overcrowded. If Welbeck leaves and Van Persie or Rooney find themselves injured, Van Gaal will have to rely on Hernandez and the youth.
United fans will trust van Gaal knows what he’s doing – the alternative is too terrifying to contemplate – but should things get worse, the boy from Longsight could be missed.
What do you think? Will Manchester United live to regret letting Danny Welbeck go? Does he remain a valuable asset to Louis Van Gaal? Get involved with the discussion in the comment section below, or on Twitter @TBRFootball.