Danny Welbeck 21 Striker Manchester United
When Olof Mellberg forced an own goal and then scored one of his own to put England 2-1 down in their second group game at UEFA Euro 2012, the last game started to look a daunting prospect. Andy Carroll's towering header had slipped away into memory and England's hopes of progressing felt as if they were hanging by the finest of threads.
The relief that met Theo Walcott's equaliser was palpable but the winner was a real joy. While England might have been forgiven for seeing out the draw in a difficult game and going into the match against Ukraine to pick up a win and get the job done, two extra points were secured by Manchester United's Danny Welbeck. His deft backheel showed the world what he's all about; the requisite vision, technique and confidence are a relatively rare combination.
It was the high water mark of Welbeck's tournament, and a moment that went a long way towards cementing his role in the England squad. The improvised flick against Sweden was Welbeck's second international goal, following quickly after his first. In England's final Wembley friendly before the Euros, his run to meet Ashley Young's pass and delicate chip over Belgium's Simon Mignolet demonstrated even more clearly that the technique Welbeck has at his disposal is potentially frightening.
The young Mancunian has been an established feature of United's line-up since returning from a loan spell at Sunderland. He made five appearances for United in the 2009/10 season, during which he also played for Preston North End, but looked to confirm his worth at the Stadium of Light. It worked a treat: Welbeck played more matches and more minutes for United last season than he did for Sunderland the season before, and he scored more goals too.
Of the six goals Welbeck scored between January and early November of this year, according to Opta, five were scored from inside the penalty area. His poaching nature certainly came to the fore for England too, but he is a more complete forward than your typical fox in the box. His pass completion rate in the final third in the same period was 86%, and he also won 95% of his 40 attempted tackles. Throw in his three assists up until November this year, and a picture begins to emerge of a player who makes a very meaningful contribution when called upon.
A return of nine goals isn't particularly impressive and possibly points to the biggest worry that United and England might have about Welbeck's game, but it should be noted that he plays for a team that scores enough goals from the team as a whole to mean that his overall contribution has to be about so much more than just finding the net. Alex Ferguson, more than almost any other manager, is smart enough to judge Welbeck on more than just a number. Nevertheless, breaking into double figures for this season is a must.
What Ferguson sees when observing Welbeck is a very modern centre forward. Neither battering ram nor delicate trequartista, he brings a rounded game whose very best exponents sometimes seem as if they're single-handedly doing the work of an old-fashioned strike partnership. Welbeck has a long way to go to reach that standard, but being confident and accomplished on the ball, good on the spin and proficient in linking play is an excellent foundation.
One fan described Welbeck as having "Pritt Stick" feet, which is as good a summary as can be offered about what he brings to United. Unfortunately, having children's glue on his feet seems to do little for his overall finishing, an aspect that certainly needs plenty of work. If he can find more strikes like the ones that saw off the Belgians then England could easily have on their hands a very special player indeed.
The signing of Robin van Persie, competition with Javier Hernandez and the return from injury of Wayne Rooney were bound to pose a challenge for Welbeck, but Ferguson's options will all be used throughout a gruelling season on four - now three - fronts. Welbeck has plenty to offer and will be a vital part of any United success this year.
“Welbeck is a fearless young striker with lots of quality and more to come, and the goals are starting to flow for his country. He's going to be a vital player for England in the coming years, and a knack of scoring important goals could prove a real bonus for us." - Chris Nee (The Stiles Council)
B Justifying Ferguson's faith
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