Is Welbeck's Big-Game Inclusion Justified?

Danny Welbeck keeps starting Manchester United's big games, but do the stats support his selection? WhoScored.com's Martin Laurence has a look.

Last Updated: 10/04/13 at 11:28 Post Comment

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Welbeck: Works hard but struggles to sco

Welbeck: Works hard but struggles to sco

Danny Welbeck's performances for club and country lately have drawn a lot of admirers, with the forward's work ethic perhaps the main point of praise from pundits and fans alike.

The fact that Sir Alex Ferguson has looked to his academy graduate more and more in the 'big games' this season is certainly evidence enough of the esteem in which he is held by the Scotsman.

WhoScored.com takes a look at the stats to analyse whether that choice is really paying off.

Welbeck's influence at the club has certainly grown this season, but his role has changed in turn. When loaned out to Sunderland, the youngster still had the same energy and drive that he has now, but was shaping up to be a player who could get in behind a defence as a leading frontman.

This season, he's started just two matches as a centre-forward (against West Brom in the league and Galatasaray in Europe), instead being asked to play from wider and deeper areas. The fact that the 22-year-old isn't really a creative type - he's only averaged 0.9 key passes per game - suggests that he's in the side to help out the midfield and win the ball from the opposition, ideally high up the pitch.

Excluding sub appearances, of players to start at least ten league games this season, only six have won back possession more often in the attacking third than Welbeck (0.75 per game), so in that sense he's doing what is asked of him.

However, questions can be asked as to whether he offers enough of a threat going forward to make Ferguson's sacrifice of one of his more creative outlets worthwhile.

When playing from wide, he doesn't offer the qualities of a traditional winger. He's only delivered three accurate crosses in the league all season and completed just 0.8 dribbles per game. The theory is that the work that he puts in should allow the likes of van Persie and Rooney more freedom to get the goals, and up until the derby it seemed to have worked.

The three have only started six league games together and, prior to the defeat to Manchester City on Monday, they had won every time. Indeed the only other time when the trio have all played from kick-off this season was in the Bernabeu, with a rare Welbeck goal earning an excellent away draw.

That match, however, was the only time that Ferguson had opted to start all three against a real top side before the game against City, with the manager often leaving out one of Rooney or Van Persie when he does opt to play Welbeck. The England man has become a similar figure to that of James Milner for their rivals in that sense, chosen for his commitment and willing running in key matches, though it hasn't always paid off.

In fact, in the eight matches that Welbeck has started against 'top' opposition in all competitions this season, United have won just once - against Liverpool in the league. The forward has started in defeats to Everton, Real Madrid, City and Chelsea twice, as well as the aforementioned draw in Madrid and a stalemate at Tottenham. As the image above shows, United have only lost nine times all season, and Welbeck has started seven of those matches.

While he is by no means to blame for said defeats, and indeed has been a bright spark for the Red Devils in many including defeat at Stamford Bridge this month, the thought that he must start the bigger games nowadays is perhaps unjustified. His last and only strike in the league this season, despite mustering 38 shots in total, came back in October against Stoke. Welbeck has now played 804 minutes of Premier League action since last finding the net (almost 13-and-a-half hours).

While the young forward's endeavour must be given credit, there is still a question as to whether it's actually to the benefit of the rest of the side. The stats would suggest that there is a place for Welbeck in a side that includes both Rooney and Van Persie, but when he's chosen over one or the other, the effect isn't always positive.

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 Martin Laurence on Twitter at @martinlaurence7.

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