Having spent last season on loan at Sunderland, Longsight-born Welbeck came into the United side at the start of the campaign with some impressive performances. He started in the Community Shield at Wembley, and then again against West Brom in the opening league fixture of the season. In the next two games against Tottenham and Arsenal he opened the scoring, before suffering a hamstring injury that kept him out of United’s next five games.
Welbeck has been consistent throughout his breakthrough season, scoring 13 goals in 39 appearances so far. He seems to be enjoying his partnership with Wayne Rooney, and the understanding between the two forwards for the fourth goal against Everton last weekend brought comparisons with Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole’s interplay at the Nou Camp back in the 1998/99 campaign.
The budding partnership has restricted teammate Javier Hernandez to just eight starts in United’s last 21 league games. It is notable that these starts have come against Stoke, Norwich, West Brom, Wolves, and two against both Blackburn and Wigan. Five of the eight have been against sides right down at the bottom of the table, and the current highest position of any of these teams is West Brom, who lie tenth in the league. In the big games, Sir Alex Ferguson always turns to Welbeck, which is an indication of the trust that he has placed in the youngster.
Hernandez himself had an extraordinary breakthrough season last time round, but has been overtaken by his Mancunian teammate in the pecking order. Welbeck’s touch and build-up play is superior to Hernandez’, which contributed to United’s free-flowing start to the campaign. By contrast, the Mexican missed all of United’s pre-season matches, and did not start a game until September 10.
Hernandez’ movement and finishing ability make him a threat that is hard to ignore, but Welbeck contributes more to United’s all-round style of play when he is on the pitch. His coming of age has also consigned last season’s joint top-scorer in the Premier League, Dimitar Berbatov, to the Old Trafford exit door.
Sir Alex Ferguson has a history of placing his faith in youth, and will be looking for 21-year-old Welbeck to lead the United line for many years to come. In the here and now, if United play two up front on Monday night against City, Welbeck will be a certain starter, given Ferguson’s propensity to play him on the big occasion.
There would be no better way for Welbeck to cap a promising season at United than with a potential title-clinching contribution at the Etihad.