David Moyes has chopped and changed his centre back pairing this season. But is he sure of his best partnership? Here THT wrestles with the question of who should be Moyesai??i?? preferred choice.

It is often said that title winning teams are built on a strong centre back pairing, from Bruce & Pallister to Campbell & Adams and more recently Ferdinand & Vidic.

Table1

From 2006-07 to 2011-12 the team with the best or second best defensive record has gone on to be crowned the league champions. This trend was bucked in 2012-13 when there were 4 teams better than the champions of that season ai??i?? Manchester United. Last season, Alex Ferguson rotated his centre backs more often than usual due to the re-emergence of Jonny Evans and the need to give Ferdinand and Vidic a rest. So if last season were taken to be an anomaly then it can be safely assumed that to mount a title challenge there is a pressing need to have a strong and stable centre back pairing.

Table2

If the United centre backs are assessed individually then Chris Smalling has the lowest goals conceded per games played figure but he can be considered to be an outlier as he has played only 4 games in the centre of defence. Out of the remaining four options Jones has the lowest goals conceded per games played of 0.67 followed by Evans at 0.79 and Vidic at 0.94.

But it makes more sense to assess the centre back position as a pair rather than individually. If only those pairs are considered who have played 4 or more games together then Jones and Evans have the lowest goals conceded per games played of 0.75. Both of these stats show that Jonny Evans should be a permanent fixture at the heart of defence with a case both for Jones or Vidic to partner him there.

Table3

But football is a results business and if we assume 3 points for a win and one for a draw for all the matches played then we can arrive at a points per game figure. That is, what is the average points per game achieved with different centre backs. As far as the individual assessment is concerned the highest points per game is with Phil Jones playing at centre back followed by Jonny Evans. The other 3 defenders in consideration all contribute the same points per game of 1.75.

As a pair if only those who have played in 4 games or more together are assessed then Jones and Evans again come out on top with a points per game of 2.50. What Ferdinand and Vidic do not have in their favour is the fact that they were paired together against Manchester City when United got hammered. But if the quality of opposition is taken to be a constant then it can be clearly seen that Jones and Evans have been Unitedai??i??s meanest centre back pairing this season.

The effectiveness of Jones and Evans can also be attributed to the fact that they push up a lot more as compared to Ferdinand and Vidic. At his pomp Ferdinand could push up close to the half way line knowing that he had the pace to get back in position if he got found out. But the old warriors have to play closer to their goalkeeper now and this results in the midfield playing a lot closer to the defense. All of this has a cumulative effect on Rooney and Van Persieai??i??s position as they have to drop deeper to get the ball and dictate the play.

For a purpose of this analysis all of the matches that United have played this season have been considered.

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