United's Defence Makes Up For RvP Drought

Robin van Persie's goal drought continues, but as Ali Tweedale from Who Scored.com explains, their defence has made this irrelevant to their procession to the title...

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There was "no question about it" in Robin van Persie's mind that he had ended his goalscoring drought with the winning goal against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

The powers that be begged to differ, though, as shortly afterwards it was a

ajudged as yet another own goal for Titus Bramble.

So Van Persie's run without scoring continues, and as WhoScored.com can tell us, the Dutchman has now gone nearly 10 hours - 594 minutes to be exact - without a goal for his club.

United have, in the meanwhile, crashed out of both the FA Cup and the Champions League, but have extended their winning streak in the league to seven games. In short, their best league form of the season has coincided with their star striker's worst goalscoring run. So things must be going well elsewhere, right?

As Europe's elite competition reaches its more glamourous stages with no English side in the quarter-finals for the first time since 1996, Sir Alex Ferguson has been left rueing his talisman's dearth of goals. Danny Welbeck was the only United player to get on the scoresheet over the two legs against Real Madrid while van Persie failed.

In the two games against Chelsea in the FA Cup, van Persie may have only come off the bench, but nonetheless he still did not manage to find the net where he might have done so earlier in the season.

In the Premier League, the former Arsenal striker has scored just once in his last 622 minutes on the pitch, having previously averaged a goal every 99 minutes. It could well be that his body is suffering from a second successive season of being more or less ever-present, whilst also being overly relied upon.

At Arsenal, that reliance was plain to see, and has been even more noticeable without him this season. At United, Wayne Rooney has taken on some of the burden with 12 goals, while Javier Hernandez's eight have also come in handy. However, before Shinji Kagawa's recent hat-trick against Norwich, United's next highest goalscorers were Patrice Evra (four), Jonny Evans (three) and Rafael (three), as can be seen via their WhoScored team page.

Goals have been lacking all season from their midfield, and results are starting to tell as van Persie's goals have dried up. The likes of Antonio Valencia, Nani and Ashley Young are particularly culpable. That trio contributed 18 Premier League goals last season as well as 30 assists, while this term they have only managed one goal and nine assists between them.

So, while Real Madrid and Chelsea have found United out, other Premier League clubs have allowed the league leaders to continue their relentless march towards another title. The Red Devils have, though, made hard work of 1-0 wins over Reading and Sunderland in their last two games; the sides that are the worst in the league based on current form, with the former having lost their last six games and Sunderland without a win in eight.

Whilst their early season gameplan seemed to be based on scoring more than they concede - United conceded at least twice in six of their opening 11 league games of the season - their more recent form is based on a solid defence that has seen them go 627 minutes without conceding.

In United's goal, David De Gea has consolidated his place, having been forced to share the spot with Anders Lindegaard earlier on this term, and his confidence has grown as a result. Errors have been reduced from his game, and while he still lacks conviction in dealing with crosses, his shot stopping is up there with the best in the league. In fact, the young Spaniard's saves-to-shots ratio of 78.0% is the best of all first-choice Premier League keepers (and behind only Gerhard Tremmel (11 appearances) and Jan Mucha (two appearances) overall). While many a football fan has lacked patience with De Gea, Ferguson has bided his time with him, and the gamble seems to be paying off.

In defence, Rio Ferdinand is having one of his best seasons in recent years, while the return to fitness of Nemanja Vidic has provided healthy competition at the back with Evans, and United are keeping more clean sheets as a result.

United were blowing teams away earlier in the season and looked like becoming worthy and exciting champions. With the defence finding form and the attack - well, van Persie - losing it in recent weeks, the table-toppers are plodding towards a title win that might just end the season as something of a damp squib when they had, not so long ago, been hoping for another treble.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

Follow Ali Tweedale on Twitter at @alitweedale.

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