Sport

Debate: In-form England striker Danny Welbeck is not coping with intense place competition at Manchester United

By James Scott

After a blistering start to his England career and a promising first full season for Manchester United, Danny Welbeck has struggled to kick on for the Red Devils this campaign.

The Manchester-born forward has found his opportunities understandably limited this year, with the arrival of one the most potent strikers in the world, Robin van Persie.

Welbeck has struggled to gain personal rewards this term, netting just one goal, in the 4-2 victory over Stoke City on Saturday, in 11 appearances.

As opposed to Sir Alex Ferguson’s ongoing defensive deficiencies in the past year, United have a resource of riches up front.

Van Persie has enjoyed a predictably electric start to his Old Trafford career and with eight goals in ten appearances – he is Ferguson’s go-to man.

Then there is the small matter of the best English player of a generation, Wayne Rooney, the superstar and focal point of the United team.

Javier Hernandez earned his stripes with two important goals against FC Braga midweek, and should arguably be more aggrieved than Welbeck in sitting on the bench.  

In the scoring stakes he is behind hot-shots Jonny Evans and Rafael Da Silva, leaving many to question his finishing prowess.

One man who won’t be displeased is England manager Roy Hodgson, who has seen Welbeck score more goals than anyone else in his England tenure.

Hodgson’s faith in the United man was rewarded with a series of mature performances for England at Euro 2012.

Welbeck started all four of England’s Euro 2012 games and the 21-year-old came away as one of the few finds of the tournament.

Welbeck’s back-heeled finish against Sweden at the Euros was replicated against San Marino in October, as he picked up two goals and scooped man of the match. 

He has flourished playing alongside fellow Old Trafford man Rooney, and appears to play with more fluidity and confidence for England.

With Jermaine Defoe hardly a long-term option, Welbeck is the most likely bet to play alongside Rooney for at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and beyond.

Last season Welbeck was used unsparingly by Sir Alex – who set him the challenge of bagging 20 this season – rising above Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen in the pecking order and being shortlisted for the PFA Young Player of the Year Award.

This term, with the focus on the Van Persie-Rooney partnership and Shinji Kagawa showing he is equally adept on the wing, Welbeck will find his chances more restricted.

Despite his obvious talent, Welbeck has proved to be the weak link in United’s attack this year and a return of one goal frankly isn’t good enough.

Interestingly in his post-match interview, Sir Alex admitted to being unsure of how to get the best out of his four forwards.

“He (Javier Hernandez) has got me thinking,” said the United manager. “Him, Van Persie, Rooney, Welbeck… I don’t know what to do with them to be honest.”

A lifelong Reds fan, Welbeck played football on the streets of Longsight with Wes Brown – eleven years his senior – and has stressed he only wants to play for his childhood team.   

He joined the club as an eight-year-old and capped his league debut with a 30-yard screamer against Stoke City in November 2008, shades of ‘remember the name…’

Since then the man given the imaginative nickname ‘Welbz’ by his teammates has registered 17 goals in 72 games, and was rewarded with a four-year contract this August.

Michael Carrick spoke of the benefits of vying for places with such superstars.

“Watching the likes of Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney will improve him as the years go by,” said Carrick.

But for how many years will Welbeck, already excelling on the England stage, be willing to sit on the bench and watch?

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