TEAMtalk's Rich Kitto is excited by the Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney pairing but warns Manchester United against being relient on the duo.
"To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often" - Winston Churchill
For the first time, against CFR Cluj, Manchester United fans saw a dream turn to reality as Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie started a game together for the very first time, and instantly demonstrated why anticipation was so great. Such a performance has naturally lead to speculation as to how formidable a partnership they can form - but in the era of the 'false nine', trequartista's and rotational front men, is a two-man outfit the appropriate attacking solution in the modern day?
The days of the straight forward 4-4-2 formation that was so familiar to followers of the Premier League and the English national team appear to have gone. In fact, it's rare for a team to line-up with two traditional strikers nowadays, as the influx of foreign talent and new managerial thinking has forced hands and changed the way that attacking football is considered.
On a global scale, one team instantly springs to mind when considering the new alternative of floating frontmen. Whilst Lionel Messi will 'technically' spear-head the Barcelona front line on the team sheet presented to the opposition, both they, and us, know full well that the minor magician will not stay there. Generally intertwining and weaving between two of either Villa, Pedro, Iniesta, Fabregas or Sanchez, Messi will drop deep or wide to find the possession and space to drive at the opposed defenders.
Such a philosophy has been ingrained in Barca for a few years now courtesy of Pep Guardiola. Lest we not forget that in the 2008/09 season the triumvirate of Messi (38), Thierry Henry (26) and Samuel Eto'o (36) scored an absolutely astonishing 100 goals between them.
But whilst the false nine position and 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formations had been living and breathing in Spain and Italy for quite some time, it wasn't really until Jose Mourinho thought to reshape Chelsea that a change of the guard occurred on our shores. Whilst it created what is now known as the 'Makelele role', setting up his team with Drogba as the lone striker and deploying Robben and Duff on either side to form an explosive trio worked extremely well, and secured them the EPL title the fans were craving.
Mourinho himself said of the system: "If I have a triangle in midfield - Claude Makelele behind and two others just in front - I will always have an advantage against a pure 4-4-2 where the central midfielders are side by side. There is nothing a pure 4-4-2 can do to stop things."
To this day, that team remains one of the greatest on show in the Premier League in this decade. But that was in 2005, and patterns have shifted again since then as attacking midfielders have become far more influential in dropping deep to link midfield and attack. In fact, when thinking of the most threatening and deadly striking combinations in world football, you'd be well pressed to name two out and out strikers that play together for you to deem 'a partnership'.
Again, under Mourinho, Real Madrid line up with 4 or 5 attacking options on the field at any one time. And whilst Ronaldo obviously stands out for his contribution, it's very difficult to pin point a 'partner' for him - Higuan, Benzema, Di Maria and Ozil all combine for the end solution. In Germany, Bayern Munich use Gomez, Ribery and Robben to great effect.
Over here it's becoming much the same. Manchester City, the top scorers in the league last season, use the tiny triplet of Aguero, Tevez and Silva with Yaya Toure in behind; and although it's yet to bare fruition (due to lack of performance and gel time), Brendan Rodgers is installing a very similar idea at Anfield with Suarez, Sterling, Borini and Gerrard used in a four-pronged attack. There is Torres, Hazard, Mata and Oscar at Chelsea; and after some impressive recent performances, Jermain Defoe is now Spurs lead striker with Lennon, Bale and Dempsey in and around to provide the balls and goals alongside him.
Yes typically the lead striker will score the majority of the goals for obvious reasons, but all these players habituate very similar roles in the respect that they're entrusted to understand the game, see the space and opportunities, and entitled to the creative freedom to build one fluid attacking team. There is not a 'true number nine', two-man partnership or target man in sight.
Though, of the major teams in the Premier League, there is one exception, and that's at Newcastle where - although they rarely contribute together in the same game - Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse have a genuine understanding and relationship thanks largely to their time together in the national team, as well as under the guidance of Alan Pardew.
My point being, that the expectation of Rooney and van Persie to form a lethal partnership together is somewhat unusual in this modern era of transitional formations and four or five pronged attacks. Van Persie will naturally lead the breaks, it is where he is most formidable, but perhaps this will now give Rooney the opportunity to sit further back in midfield, pull the strings, add a bit more guile, and ultimately give leadership and direction to a team that is lacking it.
Rooney himself revealed recently in his autobiography that it was a position he is considering: "I get more of the ball, I'm involved loads and, after one game, I even think about playing there permanently."
Whilst Kagawa looks sharp and a good purchase he could do with finding the net a few more times, and United fans need to see much more out of Nani, Young (upon his full return), Welbeck, Hernandez and Cleverley. Much like Arsenal, there is already a sense that the team is beginning to over rely on their new Flying Dutchman - and whilst Rooney is almost certain to link up well with the 29-year-old; the focus, anticipation and expectation must fall on more than those two sets of weighty shoulders if United are to regain their title.