Robin van Persie: Pirlo doesn’t do left-footed finishes
The Match of the Day commentator Jonathan Pearce, perhaps guilty of not getting close enough to Sir Killalot during his Robot Wars days, watched Robin van Persie’s failed penalty kick in Sunday’s 3-2 win over Southampton and exclaimed: “he went for the Pirlo!”. (Ignoring his buffoonery for a moment …) Udinese midfielder Maicosuel did something similar — and failed — in a Champions League qualifier last week and that, like Van Persie’s, was perhaps a direct consequence of Andrea Pirlo’s successful attempt at the European Championships in June. The man responsible for the chipped penalty, Antonin Panenka, says that “several times I’ve seen a player take a penalty like that on television, and every commentator in every country never fails to describe it as a Panenka penalty, which is naturally very gratifying.” With the two recent attempts of it, you get the feeling that he might be changing his mind. To miss a penalty is excusable, but to try something audacious — and not succeed at it — whilst your team is losing is not.
Then again, there is perhaps never a right time for such a thing; Andrea Pirlo could have well fluffed his Panenka attempt and Italy could have then been knocked out of the quarters, even to England. What made Van Persie’s attempt so disappointing was that the penalty was a route back into a game that had Southampton’s name scribbled all over it. And he didn’t convert.
Still, nice hat-trick.
Southampton were unlucky and arguably deserved the three points more than their visitors; Adam Lallana was always busy and lead the team well, Jason Puncheon was a constant threat down the flanks before being subbed off, and Morgan Schneiderlin bulldozed his way through an, at times, vacant midfield that would probably alarm the people at CERN. In contrast, United’s key men had an off-day. Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick under-performed while the latter was atypically sloppy in possession, and Shinji Kagawa found that his Hover Boots were replaced by the Iron Boots.
But it would be lazy to say that Southampton had defended well; United would suddenly find a worrying amount of space in the opposition box when Paul Scholes had come on and eventually, the two late goals would come from free headers. Still, United were no better. They would be matched or even outnumbered by the Saints as they attacked. Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand both looked rusty (Evans is a good option off the bench) and didn’t get the assistance they required from either full-back nor the midfield; that was, until substitutions were made.
United can’t seem to shake off their reliance on 37-year-old Scholes. United looked organised in midfield and, as a result, they attacked much better. “When Paul Scholes came on, everything started ticking,” Van Persie would say after the game. Sir Alex was also impressed: “Paul Scholes came on and brought composure, a consistency of passing and made the difference. Hernandez came on and made a difference also. He started stretching them and running in between them.”
Above all, it was the presence of Van Persie that did well in masking any deficiencies the team has. United need the Dutchman more than they had initially thought, especially in the absence of Wayne Rooney, and it appears he thrives in this sort of environment. Last season he helped propel (an overachieving?) Arsenal to a respectable third place and he could well be the difference in deciding first and second this year. There are issues that need addressing but good strikers, across a wide-range of teams have, for a long time, been able to make up for others, their goals as an adequate smokescreen; Rooney did exactly that last season. United fans only have to look at his set of goals on Sunday to believe this; the first, an angled strike with his left-foot, the second a poacher’s goal, and the third a header that had been executed perfectly (it looked immensely difficult to pull off; not only did he get his head on a Nani corner — an achievement in itself — but ran into a good position and used the pace of the ball to guide it in). Bet Pirlo can’t do that (“he probably can” – smart-arses).
Amusingly, Van Persie was successful with the Panenka before. “There are moments that transcend a match,” wrote The Sun’s Antony Kastrinakis in the aftermath of Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Wolves last season. “A result. A season. That was one of them.” Er, guess so.