Scrutinised Falcao proving his worth at Manchester United
Falcao’s loan move to Manchester United was perhaps the biggest shock of the summer transfer window. The Colombian moved to Old Trafford on deadline day, despite numerous reports suggesting he was close to signing for Real Madrid during the off season. The player himself even tweeted ‘Dream come true #HalaMadrid’, before hastily deleting the message. Following his arrival, supporters were expecting El Tigre to score for fun in the Premier League.
The creative personnel at Louis van Gaal’s disposal means a striker of Falcao’s calibre should thrive. The 28-year-old has made a name for himself as one of the most prolific frontmen in Europe following stints with FC Porto and Atletico Madrid and while he failed to replicate those same goalscoring exploits at Monaco - a knee injury playing its part - his capture still excited fans. However, 3 goals in 13 league appearances has led many to believe he is nothing more than an expensive disappointment, raking in a reported £300k-a-week yet failing to perform the job he was brought in to do.
To say Falcao has flopped, however, would be wide of the mark. Yes, the goals have not come as freely as they did during his time with Porto and Atletico, where in 4 years he made 118 league appearances, netted 69 goals and provided a further 7. Then again, 6 months on the sidelines as a result of a knee injury was always going to affect his displays in the months following his return. The problem, sustained 12 months ago, ended his hopes of turning out for Colombia at the 2014 World Cup and doubts continue to linger over whether he has yet returned to full fitness.
Van Gaal is understandably treating his recuperation with caution. In 17 competitive appearances this season, Falcao has played the full 90 minutes just 3 times. The physical rigours of the Premier League may draw out his rehabilitation and it was perhaps no surprise to see him miss the recent defeat to Southampton following a hectic festive period. He returned to the starting XI against QPR, however, and looked bright. He failed to net at Loftus Road, despite being presented with 3 good chances, but his WhoScored rating (7.22) indicates he performed better than many were willing to give him credit for.
In fact, his rating from starts alone stands at a respectable 7.28 in Premier League games. The win over QPR on Saturday was only the second time in his 8 starts that he has failed to either score or assist a goal since joining United, though 2 good Rob Green saves and a slight Steven Caulker touch after James Wilson's pass across goal was all that separated Falcao and his 4th league goal of the season. While he appears to still be adjusting to the demands that come with English football, his lack of goals has not affected his confidence, nor his ability to find space to test the opposition goalkeeper.
From starts alone, only Ángel Di María (3.1) and Robin van Persie (2.6) are averaging more shots per game than Falcao (2.4) of all United players in league games, and Falcao tends not to finish matches. When factoring in starts only, and considering the Colombia international has played the full 90 minutes only 3 times in the league this season, it's worth noting that only Di María (1 every 30 minutes) is averaging a shot more frequently than Falcao (1 every 32.1 minutes) of all United players.
Despite his troublesome knee, the Colombian still has a striker’s instinct to move into goalscoring positions, while his morale has not been dented as he aims to make a name for himself with United and prove he is worth the money being spent to keep him at Old Trafford.
Furthermore, his somewhat commendable goals and assist return from starts come as Falcao has been required to develop his game. Van Gaal is seemingly determined to use a two-man striker system, but Falcao in the past thrived as the lone frontman. It is no coincidence that once Claudio Ranieri looked to partner the striker in attack for Monaco last season his form dipped.
Falcao has been partnered up front in each of his 8 league starts for United this season and while the performances have improved compared to his days in Ligue 1, the subpar goalscoring return suggests he is still adapting to sharing the striking spotlight with a teammate, though is gradually improving in the system.
To say Falcao’s move to United has been an unmitigated disaster is premature. Granted, the goals have not flown as freely as some would have imagined, but the loanee is providing a focal point in the attack and his work off the ball suggests he brings more to the game than Van Persie. "For me, it is also important if he (Falcao) is an attacking point," Van Gaal said following the win over QPR.
His 49 touches against the Hoops was his joint most in a single league match this season and highlights how he is becoming more involved in the build up play rather than just operating as far forward as possible.
Should Van Gaal persist with Falcao, it’s only a matter of time before he rediscovers his goalscoring touch. Many of the United players are adjusting to the demands of a new manager, but Falcao’s reputation means he is the centre of attention, with every move he makes analysed and every mistake, scrutinised. Nevertheless, after such a short time in England and following his knee injury, to conclude that the striker has been a downright failure in the Premier League after 6 months could not be further from the truth.
Do you think Falcao has flopped for Manchester United or is he proving his worth at Old Trafford?