Fight, Fight, Fight: Danny Welbeck

While Daniel Storey is a huge fan of Danny Welbeck, Matt Stanger says that he's a symbol of negativity. Here the two put forward their arguments for your judgement...

Last Updated: 15/10/13 at 13:35 Post Comment

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The Defence
A lack of goals. That's what Matthew Stanger will tell you about Danny Welbeck. It's all anyone tells you about Danny Welbeck. "One league goal last season, don't you know?" "Yes, we know."

Never mind that this is a player picked by Sir Alex Ferguson for Manchester United's biggest fixtures ahead of more high-profile names, most notably the knock-out matches against Real Madrid in the Champions League when Wayne Rooney dropped to the bench in the second leg. In the first, Welbeck was named as Man of the Match after his goal secured United a draw.

Never mind that he has seen off the competition from Dimitar Berbatov and looks to be doing the same to Javier Hernandez.

Never mind that he was picked for England in 11 of their 13 games in 2012, including starting every match at Euro 2012.

Never mind that he has eight goals for his country despite a total playing time equivalent to just 13 full matches.

Never mind that by the age of 22 he has played close to 100 Premier League games.

Never mind that he has the middle name Tackie and the Premier League's best haircut.

Those who see him as ineffective are those that view football only in statistical form. Those who fail to see Manchester United's forward line as one entity, but instead need to analyse its component parts. Take the 3-2 victory over Manchester City last season, for example. Robin Van Persie may have scored the champions' winner but it was Welbeck's harrying of Gael Clichy that earned the set-piece. Welbeck is a player whose attributes fail to be measured by statistics.

He has pace, strength on the ball and a phenomenal work rate. He works back into midfield, often acting as a left winger for both club and country, expected to fulfil significant defensive duties when Patrice Evra or Ashley Cole overlap. Against Real Madrid last season, he was specifically tasked with sticking to Xabi Alonso in midfield to thwart the Spaniard's passing options. In many ways, a forward pays for such selflessness.

In a team sport becoming ever more consumed with the performance and analysis of individuals, Welbeck remains a true team player. So, for those who demand statistics, how about this - last season, United won 81% of their matches with Welbeck in the side, and only 66% without him. That's significant enough for both club and country to consider him a highly valuable asset.

"His value is there because I know he can do a job for me in any position. It's a fantastic asset when you have a player who is as adaptable as that." If it's good enough for Fergie it should be good enough for us. His critics would do well to remember that, Stanger.


The Prosecution
"When Danny came back from the national team I said 'why do you only score for the national team but you don't score for your club'. Now he has answered back," said Patrice Evra after Welbeck's brace against Swansea. "I am glad for Danny. He is a striker and he deserved his goals. The second was a great finish."

That Welbeck has only scored once in six appearances since Manchester United's opening-day victory shows that his performance against the Swans was the exception that proves the rule. Only two goals in the entirety of last season provides all the ammunition this opposition requires, with Sir Alex Ferguson warning the forward in the summer that he needs to be more consistent in front of goal.

But rather than a criticism of Welbeck as a player, this is a proposition that we give up on thinking of the 22-year-old as a striker, both in terms of the regularity with which he plays in the position and his suitability for the role. Despite his goal record for England, Welbeck has repeatedly demonstrated that he is no more an attacking threat than Alexander Buttner for United, bounding like Bambi on ice down the flank and spurning the gilt-edged chances that come his way.

In truth, the disparity between Ferguson's appraisal of Welbeck's form last year and the way in which the youngster was used was enormously unfair. "Danny can be a top player but obviously he will have to improve his goalscoring," said Ferguson in July. "He got nine goals last season but if you are going to be a top striker you have to get 20 or above. I think he will do that."

Of course, the only way Welbeck can develop into a 'top striker' is if he were played in that role, with Ferguson previously admitting that "maybe he doesn't appreciate us moving him around in various positions". Owing to his physical attributes and diligence in tracking back, Welbeck became Ferguson's safety pick, the shield among his attacking armoury as United relied on Robin van Persie to be the team's match-winner.

This is not to say that Welbeck hasn't performed admirably when tasked with providing cover rather than a goalscoring threat. Twice he helped limit Xabi Alonso's influence in the Champions League when Ferguson positioned him to man-mark the Real Madrid midfielder, and what Welbeck lacks in artistry, he makes up for in work rate.

But the problem is that he has now become a symbol of negativity, of holding a position rather than gaining an advantage. That Welbeck started ahead of Wayne Rooney in the second leg against Madrid somewhat mitigates his teammate's request to leave Old Trafford, as Ferguson demonstrated a crippling lack of intent in United's biggest game of the season and alienated one of the club's two best players in the process.

Michael Carrick is often derided as the midfielder who never passes the ball forward, but Welbeck is the striker who only ever plays it backwards. He has clearly improved his upper body strength to aid his harrassment of defenders, but the forward's power is only ever used in a defensive capacity - to guard the ball from the full-back and lay it off to Patrice Evra.

It is predictable and impotent, and all but guarantees that Welbeck will never be the 'top striker' of which Ferguson speaks, and certainly not at a club challenging for titles. When he finally works himself into a goalscoring position, such is Welbeck's lack of killer instinct that he either plays an awkward pass across the edge of the penalty area or leans back so far that the ball balloons over the bar in familiar and frustrating fashion.

The frustration doesn't end there, either, with Welbeck's inclusion in United's first XI hindering the impact of better players among the squad. Shinji Kagawa's stop-start spell at Old Trafford has, in part, been influenced by Ferguson and now Moyes' reliance on an attacking utility man who can be trusted to drop deep and 'do a job' when required.

But football fans should never be satisfied by players who merely 'do a job'. We are here to be entertained by skilful playmakers such as Kagawa or deadly finishers of Javier Hernandez's ilk. It is Welbeck's biggest crime that he has restricted the playing time afforded to the duo, as well as keeping Rooney out of the crucial tie against Madrid.

And yet, of course, it is an offence for which he cannot be blamed. Simply by working hard, Welbeck embodies football for the fearful. To be in charge of Manchester United and choose Welbeck as one of your front four is to be a superhero who uses their powers for menial labour. Welbeck is the coward's pick and for that, both he and the rest of us have been made to suffer.

Daniel Storey and Matt Stanger

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