Robin van Persie moved to within two goals of Liverpool’s Luis Suarez in the battle to finish as Premier League top scorer after ending his ten-game barren run in Manchester United’s victory over Stoke City on Sunday.
The Dutchman’s clutch penalty in the Red Devils’ 2-0 triumph at the Britannia Stadium ended the longest drought of his club career and saw his odds of retaining the Golden Boot cut to 7/4.
More importantly than cutting the gap back to Suarez, Van Persie’s 20th league strike of the season should see his confidence restored ahead of the final six games of the campaign.
Before Michael Carrick’s opener set United on the road to victory, it had been 343 minutes since a player in red had last struck for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
Having seen that streak end, Ferguson decided to hand Van Persie the responsibility of breaking his own goalless run of nearly 1,000 minutes and ensuring United regained their 15-point title advantage over FA Cup final-bound Manchester City.
That goal in the Potteries puts Van Persie within sight of becoming the first player since Alan Shearer in 1997 to win the Golden Boot for two different clubs in successive seasons, having fired 30 league goals for Arsenal last term before his acrimonious move to Old Trafford.
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Van Persie’s job has been made easier by the surprising slump suddenly being endured by Suarez, who recorded his third successive blank as Liverpool drew 0-0 for the second weekend in a row, this time at bottom club Reading.
Suarez’s recent impotence against the lower-end clubs (he previously failed to score against Aston Villa and West Ham) is alarming but may mean Liverpool’s next fixture offers him the perfect chance to end that sequence.
The crossovers and intrigue when Rafael Benitez brings Chelsea to Merseyside will be immense, but none perhaps more so than the striking dual between Suarez and the man he replaced at Anfield, Fernando Torres.
For while you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone outside of Roman Abramovich who would take Torres over Suarez throughout much of the two seasons since, the balance of form seems to now be swinging the Spaniard’s way.
Five goals in six since adopting the ‘Mask of Torro’ aren’t enough to bring Torres into the top scorer running (he’s still on just seven in the league) but facing him might spark a response from Suarez and see him move off 22 goals to further endorse his position as 1/2 Golden Boot leader.
Yet Van Persie might already be level by that point, with United having an inviting-looking midweek fixture at West Ham (a repeat of an FA Cup match where the Dutchman got a last-minute equaliser in January) before Liverpool next play.
The Dutchman is 7/2 to get the opener in that game and another strike would truly put the pressure on Suarez as the race for the season’s top individual honour hits the home straight.