Refined Van Persie sharpens striker's art
Statistics suggest that Manchester United's top predator Robin van Persie is even more deadly than he was in winning last term's golden boot
Robin van Persie may appear to have simply picked up where he left off since joining Manchester United from Arsenal, but a look at his statistics reveals that he is now an even more effective striker.
With 17 goals in 22 league appearances, he is on track to match the tally of 30 goals from last season that landed him the Premier League golden boot and a glut of end-of-term awards.
Scrutiny of his attacking contribution, however, suggests that his finishing has become more clinical.
In 2011-12 Van Persie averaged a goal every 111.1 minutes in the Premier League, according to statisticians Opta, but this season, that figure has improved to a goal every 103 minutes.
It might appear that he is simply benefitting from being the spearhead of the league's most attacking side but, in fact, Van Persie's attempts at goal have become less frequent.
Last season he shot at goal, on average, 3.7 times per game. This season that figure is 3.1, and yet he is scoring more regularly. The apparent paradox can be explained by a sharper focus purely on goals and an increased ruthlessness in his shooting.
Van Persie's average number of touches in the opposition penalty area has fallen from eight per game to 6.2, while the number of chances he creates for his teammates has dropped as well, from 2.42 per match to 1.91.
Arsenal's dependence on him meant he had to play a more active role in build-up play last season, but at United he can dedicate more of his efforts to finding space in the box and exploiting the opportunities that come his way.
Fewer shots, more goals. The picture that emerges is of a centre-forward more in tune with his goal-scoring instincts than ever before.
His dead-eyed equaliser in United's 2-2 draw at West Ham United in the FA Cup earlier this month was a perfect illustration.
Introduced as a 67th-minute substitute with United chasing the game, the 29-year-old did not have a sniff of goal until a high pass from Ryan Giggs sent him clear in injury time.
With one touch he cushioned the ball, with another he pushed it out of his feet, and with his third he zipped a crisp drive into the bottom-left corner to take the tie to a replay from which United would emerge victorious.
"Movement from the book, touch from the book, goal from the book," was the verdict of United captain Nemanja Vidic.
Having snatched Van Persie from beneath the noses of Manchester City, United manager Alex Ferguson has taken supreme satisfaction from the ease with which the Dutchman has adapted to life at Old Trafford.
Van Persie, meanwhile, has found a kindred spirit in the ultra-competitive, straight-talking Ferguson. "The things he says, when he says them, before the match, during the match and after it, it is very direct," said the former Arsenal man.
"It is all spot-on and very honest. I love that. We Dutch people like to be straight and honest and he tells you how it is."
Van Persie's knack for scoring crucial late goals has further endeared him to the fans of a club who specialise in last-gasp drama, and his injury-time winner at City in December means he has already inscribed his name in United folklore.
As a former Gunner, Van Persie can expect to hear more than a few choice remarks from the crowd when he returns to United's starting lineup for today's trip to Tottenham Hotspur.
He was rested for the midweek FA Cup game against West Ham, in which Wayne Rooney missed another penalty. The Dutchman could now be handed those duties, potentially increasing his goal threat.
"I have not made a decision about that," Ferguson said. "We don't want to be missing penalties. It is a regular opportunity. But it is not something I want to discuss."
Having seen his side win 3-2 at Old Trafford this season, Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas believes United will be a very different prospect today.
"A lot of time has gone by in between," he said. "The run of form is amazing. It is going to be a completely different game."