A new era may have been ushered in, but there was a familiar whiff to Manchester United at Swansea on Saturday. The old flaws and advantages were there in their frustration and glory. Undoubtedly, United have changed a lot in the past few years. The interplay, good passages of play, and the one-time hallmark of the team, the slow burn of the ever-increasing spells of pressure on the opposition goal, have been more and more absent. But instead, individual moments of brilliance have come to define their play, and nobody is more adept than Robin van Persie, his two outstanding goals sealing the result.
Many players score great goals. Some are even that fabled beast, both a Scorer Of Great Goals and a Great Scorer of Goals. But the difference with Van Persie is that he appears to offer them at the right time. It's as if the crowd could have a collective will to force a goal at the point in the game they need it most. What he offers can't be translated into statistics - the vital goal to break down a stubborn defence as they begin to grow into a game, or the killer second to stop a fightback before it takes hold. It mightn't be too much an exaggeration to say that his first against Swansea, as United were struggling to find the rhythm of the opening game of David Moyes' reign, was one of the most important goals in the team's recent history.
What makes Van Persie stand out is that he is something of a dying breed - a striker who leads the line and scores goals through sheer force of will and technique. He lacks the physicality of a Falcao, but certainly isn't a poacher in the Filippo Inzaghi mould either - rather than pace, or movement, he has something else - presence. United have been blessed with similar players before, of course, and the names stand out. Denis Law and Eric Cantona both single-handedly won titles in their time at Old Trafford, too.
It's that presence which has, despite his long association with Arsenal and advanced years, made him almost one with the club instantly. It's that presence which makes things like this such prolific Twitter search. His compatriot, Ruud van Nistelrooy, was a slightly different player, but seemed to simply get the club. Van Persie hasn't had the opportunity to match his exploits just yet, but appears to have the full package in that respect too.
And yes, he isn't perfect. It has slipped under the radar of last season's narrative, perhaps understandably, but even his title-winning debut season must be marred by the fact that he did something extremely uncharacteristic and went missing at the crucial stage of the season. Not in terms of the league - he turned up plenty of times before and after that to ensure it wouldn't elude him - but his spurned chances against Real Madrid could have made for the unthinkably great last year.
Perhaps that sort of off-period is natural when such a vast burden has to be shouldered, but there are reasons to think the weight could be less this year. Danny Welbeck has already doubled last year's goal tally in the league and could supplement the Dutchman. Wayne Rooney's troubles could lead to Javier Hernandez, a more willing and able player, also chipping in more. Shinji Kagawa will surely see more gametime. And then of course there is the prospect of United actually buying a midfield before the window ends.
All this means that the potential is there for Van Persie to find another gear, or at least better use his existing ones. Everybody knew United were a desperately flawed team going into this season - the 3rd-place prediction had much to do with the loss of the Ferguson effect, but it was made even in anticipation of big signings being made. At Swansea, United had even less. Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa were benched, Javier Hernandez and Rafael were absent, and the likes of Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones were substandard. They were an average team, and they played like one.
Yet people had forgotten about what a sheer force of nature Van Persie can be. With the possible exception of the Cristiano Ronaldo rumours, there are no players United, and probably any other team in the country, could recruit to change that situation. No matter who takes to either side of the pitch or either dugout, Robin van Persie looks set to once again be the most important individual in the Premier League season.