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