Solution To United’s Leaky Defence?


Ben Davies

The old cliché “you can win games with attacking football, but a good defence will win the league title” is rearing its ugly head. Look no further than the league campaign of 2007-08 to highlight this point when Wes Brown, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra were virtually ever present and alongside Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Owen Hargreaves provided a solid base for the attacking talents to shine within the team. Ronaldo’s forty two goals were important, but the strong defensive unit was the bigger contributing factor – the team only conceded 31 goals all season.

In the current campaign United have conceded 12 goals in 9 games. So which player/s is at fault or could have done better for the 12 goals conceded so far?

Evans has become somewhat of scapegoat with many blaming the Northern Ireland International for our defensive frailties. However, defensive issues run much deeper than at the feet of just one man. Vidic has been the constant performer, although has suffered the odd hairy moment. O’Shea has returned from a long injury lay off – was always going to take him at least a month to regain match sharpness, but his form has been poor. Brown or Rafael are the alternatives. Evra has had no real pre-season and has perhaps not mentally recovered after the French World Cup debacle.

We therefore have two underperforming full backs + one relatively inexperienced defender = shaky defence? Why is the relatively inexperienced defender coming in for greater criticism?

Ferdinand the answer?

Rio has missed a lot of football over the last two seasons, we have no real idea what his performance levels will be on his return – the game against Glasgow Rangers is no barometer.  Sir Alex Ferguson obviously feels the England captain is not quite ready, highlighted by his omission from the match day squads for Liverpool and Bolton. When fit, Rio replaces Evans – no question.

Of the 12 goals conceded, only 2 have come at Old Trafford suggesting opposition teams are more adventurous in their own stadium. Teams are prepared to come forward and are prepared to battle for midfield domination, rather than sit back and defend with nine or ten men behind the ball. When the intention of a team is solely to defend Paul Scholes is allowed to dictate play – his best performances this season have come at home, notably against Newcastle United and West Ham United.  What about his central partner Darren Fletcher? Fletcher has yet to reach the heights of last season, which established him as first choice; his endeavour is still there, but his peak form is lacking. We therefore currently have four or five players in the defensive unit under-performing.

In away fixtures Van der Sar is seeing far more action than in previous seasons – midfield is being overrun and not providing a shield for the defence.  So what to do? When fresh Scholes is a cert to start, however can Sir Alex continue to use 4-4-2 for away fixtures with the inclusion of Scholes? Probably not. The solution is to use 4-5-1/4-3-3/4-2-3-1 allowing us to have greater control in midfield.

The team as a whole is to blame, not one or two players.

If you disagree, what do you think is the solution?

If you wish to discuss this issue further with myself or other members of the Stretford End Arising community, you can do so in the Stretford End Arising Forum

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  1. Well, I agree but for the away games that would mean choosing one of Berbatov and Rooney. It doesn’t seem that Fergie can choose (at the moment I’d have to say Berba) between them and ends up playing both, with 4 in midfield. Away from home, with 4 in midfield I don’t think we can afford to play Giggs AND Scholes. With everyone fit, I would play the following home and away teams regularly:

    Home (4-4-2): VdS, Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Nani, Fletcher, Scholes, Giggs, Rooney, Berbatov

    Away (4-5-1): VdS, Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Nani, Fletcher, Hargreaves/Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Rooney/Berbatov

  2. Stretford End Arising on

    Hello SR, welcome.

    Berbatov is less effective in the striker role, but his performance against Everton showed he is capable. Berbatov as the lone striker with Rooney on the left?

  3. I quite like the idea of Rooney on the left of a front 3 as United Rant has suggested. It could provide him with a new lease of life and less pressure. How about:

    Van der Sar; Rafael/Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Fletcher, Carrick/Hargreaves, Scholes; Nani, Berbatov, Rooney

  4. Agree entirely here with SEA and SR.

    Rooney left in a 4-3-3 with Fletcher and Carrick sitting behind Scholes (Anderson in time). In the short-term however, and until Roo redeems his form of –January!– I would like to see Carrick back in and Park and Nani wide. Park hasnt started the season well but is fantastic when in full flow; is there a winger out there who possesses attacking/defending qualities in equal measure as Park?

    Evra and OShea are not at the top of their games either which seems to be overlooked in this “Get Evans” knee-jerk reaction. I am convinced however that both Rio and Wes will regain their rightful starting positions and sure up some of the issues we have had as a defensive “unit”….

  5. I suppose we had to disagree at some point – yeah I heard many reds slagging him at Bolton too, but for me he is a Utd legend. He does lack in the final third, but he more than makes up for it with his astute midfield (wide and central) possession/combination play. Dont think hes going anywhere, Fergie big fan of his…could be vital now without Val/Giggs.

    But yes slow start for Park this term.

    Rio – He is my favourite CH of modern era – but Im worried too – and I dont think Fergie would’ve made the captain decision lightly; Obviously seeing something in training. But lets remember it was a highly unfortunate occurrence with heskey and only just getting over a virus at the mo. A 10 game streak could see him back to his best and boy do we need him given exploits of current “lot”…


  6. play wes brown right back and vidc rio evra .
    nani flecther carrick scholes
    it appears rooney had a bust up with fergie at bolton. thats why hhe is dropped. evans is the problenm away . you will see next two ganmes whne rio and vidc will play and see how many goals we let in i reckon no

  7. @SEA

    Hi mate. Disagree with you about Park. Whilst he doesn’t set the world alight, he’s a really valuable person to have as a squad player. He doesn’t mind sitting on the bench, and does a decent job when called upon. I think his real value will be seen towards the ending of the season, when games are coming thick and fast and a couple players are injured. Fergie’s been playing him mostly on the wing this season, but in my opinion he’s way better in the CM/AM role (like how he plays for country). A real workhorse who’s always willing to put his body on the line and quite under-rated.

  8. Not sure the defence is the main problem, I just think that teams are getting through our midfield too easily. Not sure the 4-4-2 formation helps this as most teams operate with 3 in the middle. The formation may change when Hargreaves comes back from injury so we’ll see. Rio may help the situation too though.
    Have to say I’ve been really impressed with Smallings progression aswell so I think that we are well equipped at the back.

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