- Kevin Keegan
Rooney & RVP a lethal partnershipKevin Keegan September 28, 2012
When Tottenham travel up to Old Trafford this Saturday they won't only have to face an abysmal record of no wins away to Manchester United in 23 years, it is likely they will also be staring down the barrel of one of the most fearsome-looking strike partnerships we've seen in English football.
On paper, the pairing of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie is a frightening prospect. The two top scorers in the Premier League last season - they bagged 70 between them in all competitions - are both intelligent footballers who certainly know where the goal is. There has been some suggestion that Sir Alex Ferguson will generally prefer to start games with either one or the other but I'm afraid you don't buy a player like Van Persie only to leave him on the bench; he's been bought to play with Rooney, not replace him - when it really matters in the big games, they will start together.
Rooney's return from injury is a massive positive for United - whether he is in form or not, any team missing a player of his quality is sure to be weaker. Yes, he has had spells when he's not looked so good, but when he gets into a run of form, well, we haven't seen a better English player in the last 15 years. He got a run out against Newcastle in the Capital One Cup midweek and though we don't know yet if he will start against Spurs, you can bet he's desperate to get playing with Van Persie.
It's an exciting time for Sir Alex and United fans as the partnership could, and should, be incredible. There is of course always a chance that players won't click, but I'll be amazed if it doesn't work. This is different to the situation Chelsea faced when they had Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres to choose from because both of those players are frontline strikers, while it's the opposite with Rooney and Van Persie - they are flexibility personified. Van Persie can play up top on his own, on the left, or drop back and pick the ball up from midfield. Rooney is the same, though his best position is still up behind the front man. That ability to interchange position is a real asset for a manager and switching roles will make them difficult to pick up. As long as egos don't get in the way, it should be a lethal partnership as both can supply and both can score. If they want to make it happen, it will happen.
When Manchester United signed Van Persie, that got them right back alongside Manchester City, who were looking like they'd go ahead of them on and off the field. I'm not surprised at all at how quickly he's settled in - I don't think anyone is. He won the Golden Boot last season, he's been playing in England for eight years and he's consistently scored goals; there's no language problem, there's no getting used to a new culture - the weather may be a bit worse up in Manchester, but that's about it. He was never going to be a risk, he's a guarantee and that's why Sir Alex was prepared to pay so much for a 29-year old.
Van Persie's injury problems have been spoken about but they wouldn't bother me - I bought players like Alan Shearer, who you could argue had little niggles, but I always look at it in terms of their miles on the clock. Van Persie's only had two or three really long, hard seasons when he's played a full role for an entire campaign - that means he should have more in the tank than someone who has played 50 games a season for ten years. You can't blame people for having doubts, like with someone such as Michael Owen too, but you could equally buy a player who has never had any injuries and they could play one game, get crocked and never play for you again. Football is unpredictable.
There are loads of talented youngsters at United including the likes of Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck, who may one day be the first name on United's teamsheet. But Sir Alex didn't want another promising player, he wanted the finished product. And he's got it. Van Persie is experienced, a proven leader and a proven goalscorer. Hernandez's failure to kick on after a great first season is particularly frustrating and had he banged in the goals last season, Van Persie wouldn't be at United.
Sir Alex may have a wealth of attacking talent to call on at the moment, but it's in defence that United are really struggling. With Nemanja Vidic out for two months, Rio Ferdinand nearly coming off against Liverpool, and Phil Jones and Chris Smalling still injured, they're looking a bit threadbare at the back. United have got Evans and Ferdinand fit, but after that it's just the young players. Scott Wootton and Michael Keane played against Newcastle United in midweek - that's fine in the Capital One Cup but putting those kids up against Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse at St James' Park, or going to Chelsea to play against Torres and Eden Hazard, would be too much.
Then there's the goalkeeper situation: Sir Alex still seems uncertain. He has said the No. 1 spot is up for grabs and laid down the challenge to David De Gea and Anders Lindegaard. He's got two good goalkeepers, but not a great goalkeeper at the club; it's a tough one because a goalkeeper at Manchester United is hardly involved in the game and then suddenly he's got to be ready. Concentration is often a problem for young goalkeepers so an old hand might have been better, but Sir Alex hasn't given up on them yet - it's just about who is going to step up to the plate.
United haven't really got into their stride yet this season but, then again, I think you can say that about every team in the Premier League: Chelsea have squeezed through a couple of games, City have had draws, Arsenal were held 0-0 at home to Sunderland. I'm sure Tottenham will rightly travel North thinking they've got a chance, that's the way the club are. Spurs always want to go toe-to-toe with United - there's been some cracking encounters over the years - and that's often the best way to tackle the top teams, despite their shocking record at Old Trafford.
Things have been looking up for Andre Villas-Boas in recent weeks as he's finally managed to get a few wins under his belt. However, as yet it's been difficult to see how much things have changed - a couple of new players aside - from when Harry was at Spurs. Losing Modric has been difficult: it's unsettling because a player of that quality leaving inevitably leads to your other big players, and I'm thinking of someone like Gareth Bale, questioning why they've committed themselves to a club that's selling its best players.
Elsewhere, it's been interesting to see William Gallas given a chance at centre-half. Villas-Boas usually likes to work with younger players but Gallas has proven solid so far. He has had a few little problems in the past and may be 35-years-old now, but his experience is valuable and you know what you are going to get from him nine times out of ten. Gallas can still handle himself one-on-one and he won't be fazed by playing at Old Trafford, which is useful for Spurs - particularly if Van Persie and Rooney are both lining up against him this Saturday.
Kevin Keegan is ESPN's Lead Football Analyst