Manchester United’s Corner: Defensive Woes For Fergie’s Men

Manchester United began the new season after undergoing one of the biggest squad overhauls under Sir Alex. With the likes of Scholes, Neville and Van Der Sar retiring and experienced heads such as John Oai??i?? Shea and Wes Brown sold, many thought that the replacements brought in by the manager were not good enough and certainly not experienced enough to enable the club to challenge for the league title. However, this time as well, like on innumerable other occasions, Fergie has proved the doubters wrong, as the club has had their best start to the season, during his reign, which in itself is the testament to the quality of the squad.

United are currently on top of the table having annihilated the likes of Arsenal, Bolton and Spurs with their only point dropped at the Britannia Stadium – a place where other Premier League heavy weights have floundered as well. And Britannia is perhaps one of the most intimidating venues in modern day football. However, despite the strong start and the brilliant display of attacking football, all is not well for United as far as the defensive side of their game is concerned.

Fergie has a lot to think about despite the strong start

United have so far scored 24 goals, conceded just five with three clean sheets in seven league games this season. These statistics look impressive, to say the least, but as they always say about stats – they do not reveal the true story. The Red Devils have so far allowed more shots on their goal than any other team in the entire top division, even more than Bolton, who have conceded as many as 21 goals in their seven games. With an average of more than 18 shots allowed per game, the Champions have been very lucky in defence, as their opponents have missed some gilt-edged chances in front of goal.

The team from Old Trafford has had its reality check, which came in the Champions League home game against FC Basel. United were 2-0 up at half-time but it was only down to the Swiss missing a lot of good chances. The fans expected the team to be a lot better in the 2nd half, but it was not to be, as the luck finally ran out for the Red Devils, with Basel scoring three quick goals to take the lead and it was only due a late goal by Ashley Young that helped United to gain a point.

Excerpt from Sir Alex’s post-match interview ai??i??

ai???I think we were careless,ai??? said Ferguson after the game. ai???Itai??i??s a wake-up call in many ways. A lack of concentration saw us give the game away reallyai??i??but we rescued it. To concede three goals at home ai??i?? the defence and midfield have to be better than that in terms of concentration.ai???

Those comments not only summed up the game, but also the season so far for Unitedai??i??s defence. The only difference however, being that United havenai??i??t been punished in the league games.

TheHardTackle examines the reasons for Red Devils’ apparent insecurity at the back and how Sir Alex could look to iron out the wrinkles.

No Defensive Midfielder ai??i?? Lack Of A Hard Man In Midfield

The shot count has been pushed a little bit higher by some speculative long-range shooting by opposition players in order to test De Gea, who was initially short on confidence and had let in a couple of easy goals, which should have been saved. However, those long-rangers have not been high enough to hide the obvious shortcoming of the team to close down the opponents in front of the 18-yard box. This can be pinned down to the free flowing tactics used by Sir Alex this season.

In the first few games, the manager used Anderson and Cleverley as his two central midfielders with none of them playing in the holding role in-front of the back four. Even with Cleverley injured, his replacement, be it Carrick or Fletcher, has been playing in a more advanced role than what was seen in previous seasons.

Although this has done wonders to the attacking side of the game with the team creating loads of opportunities, the problem arises when the team is caught out of position, with both full backs in the attacking half. At that time, the team is open to a counter-attack with the two central defenders left on their own to stop the opponents from scoring. So, if the team continue to play in the attacking mould, they have to be more careful than usual in possession than they have been in the last few games, where they have given the ball away carelessly at times, especially in the games against Chelsea and Basel. Also, they can opt to attack with only one full-back at a time with the other staying behind to help in defence.

Unstable Back Four- The Revolving ChairAi??

To be fair to United and Sir Alex, they have not had a settled back four ever since the start of the season. Manchester United have been very unlucky in terms of injuries to their defenders. Rafael has not had a game since the start of the league campaign, while both Ferdinand and Vidic limped off on the opening day of the season with the latter not playing a game since. Smalling and Evans have also missed games due to injuries and all these have forced Sir Alex to use Valencia as a make-shift right back.

Although, the young defenders ai??i?? Smalling and Jones have looked very impressive, the manager will prefer to ease them into big games alongside the likes of Ferdinand and Vidic, rather than throwing them in the deep end straight away with a bit out-of-form Jonny Evans to mentor them. To make matter worse, the ever reliable Patrice Evra has been a bit shoddy himself in the new season, as he has been found guilty of giving away chances on more than a few occasions.

First Choice Defenders Struggling With Injuries

The good news for the team and the fans is that Vidic is expected to be fit after the international break and his experience and command at the back will be very useful to sort the defensive problems seen in the past few games.

New Men Between The Posts ai??i?? A Natural Learning Curve

There was a lot of talk about replacing Edwin Van Der Sar, when he decided to retire at the end of last season. While the talk seemed to revolve around the Dutchman’s great goal-keeping skills, his organizational capabilities were equally important to the team. The former Holland custodian was always in the ears of the back four, trying to get their position and co-ordination right.

Although, De Gea has got over the initial nervousness and has been making terrific saves in the last few games, he is rarely seen shouting at the back four to get them organized. To be fair to the young Spaniard, Van Der Sar was a much experienced custodian and older than the likes of Rio and Vidic, which made it much easier for him to point out their mistakes.

Still Has To Go A Long Way

De Gea, on the other hand, is only 20 and is younger than the entire back-line save Phil Jones. He, like most young players, will need time to grow in confidence in order to speak out his mind ahead of his senior and much more seasoned professionals. Also the lack of fluency in English is another barrier, which the young keeper has to overcome.

Nevertheless, the former Atletico Madrid ‘keeper has shown that he has the fighting spirit, which is what it takes to be successful at a club like Manchester United and that is what the manager and the fans can hope for. Another good thing from the club point of view is that they have a very good back-up in Anders Lindegaard, who has done very well in the games against Benfica and Norwich.

Despite these problems, United have luckily managed to stay on top of the league and have dropped only two points in the opening seven games. The team has no doubt been playing with flair that was missing for the last couple of seasons but there is a very thin line between flair and recklessness and United have been constantly flirting with it. Sir Alex will be the first person to admit that his team has been living dangerously and the players need to get their act together as early as possible.

The Red Devils have three important league games coming up post the international break, as they travel to Liverpool and Everton with the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford in between those games. Captain Vidic is expected to be back for the Liverpool game and he is a player and a half; with his presence United’s back-line is bound to improve. However, that wonai??i??t be enough, as the team has to stand alongside their captain and start defending collectively like they did in the past or else they could be punished severely like they were in the game against Basel.

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2 Responses to “Manchester United’s Corner: Defensive Woes For Fergie’s Men”

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  1. Brighton Nyaruviro says:

    u knw your work my man keep’ it up dude.

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