Is David Moyes’ insistence on starting Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at every possible opportunity adversely impacting Manchester United’s defence? The stats seem to suggest so.

Manchester United defence: Moyes' obsession with Ferdinand and Vidic hurting the team

What has gone wrong with United’s defence this season?

Seven league games played, nine goals conceded. For a club like Manchester United, that stat does not make happy reading. If your name is David Moyes, you might want to stop reading right about now because there are more. Only four teams have conceded more than United this season, and the likes of Cardiff City, Hull City and Aston Villa presently boast of a tighter defence than the defending champions. In case anyone is still wondering where it has all unravelled for Moyes at the dawn of his reign, the backline might be a good place to start the introspection.

When a club places as much emphasis on attacking football aimed primarily at entertaining the masses as United have down historically since the days of Sir Matt Busby, often the exploits of the defenders, no matter how vital, gets swept under the rug. For example, talk about the classic 3-3 tie at Santiago Bernabeu in the European Cup semifinal 2ndAi??leg to most United fans, it will be the goal scoring heroics of David Sadler and ironically, Bill Foulkes, that will dominate the conversation. But ask Sir Bobby Charlton on who the real architect was behind United taming the mighty Real Madrid in their backyard in front of a hostile crowd of over 125,000 and youai??i??ll get only one name ai??i?? Nobby Stiles. Sir Bobby, in his autobiography, talks about in great length how it was centre-back Nobby Stilesai??i?? refusal to get beaten that carried United through on that night of nights. Amancio, the darling of Bernabeu, who had threatened to take the game away from United in the first half, barely got a kick in after the break due to Stilesai??i?? defiant defending. Without Stiles that night, Sir Bobby would never have been granted the stage of Wembley to win the European Cup for United against Benfica.

While the defensive lynchpins of yore may not have received their fair share of adulations, make no mistake about it that they were always there to shore things up at the back. It is debatable whether Sir Alex Ferguson could have won so many league titles in the early to mid-nineties without the formidable pairing of Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister. Similarly, Jaap Stam and Ronny Johnsen had their moments during the famous treble season. And more recently, the partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have had a lot to do with United wrestling away the mantle of top team in the country from Chelsea in the years after Jose Mourinhoai??i??s first spell at Stamford Bridge.

Vidic_Ferdinand(c)dadikaplayer(dot)blogspot(dot)comMaybe the reputation that Ferdinand and Vidic built up during those heady days has contributed to some extent to the present defensive malaise afflicting United. After all, it is easy to imagine Moyes sitting in the opposition dugout at Old Trafford in days gone by and casting envious glances at the magnificent duo as they nonchalantly repelled whatever threat the likes of James Beattie and Aiyegbeni Yakubu could muster. So perhaps it is no surprise that on being put in charge of United, he had promptly started the duo in the first five league games and the opening tie of the Champions League. And this despite the fact that the pair has looked tentative and error-prone in most of these games. Gone is their old swagger when they would boss the opponent forward line and snuff out chances ruthlessly. It is as if Moyes is picking the reputation instead of the actual players.

This is by no means though an obituary on the careers of Ferdinand and Vidic. Both remain fine players and are still among the top defenders in the league. It is just that they are no longer at the very top as age and injuries have understandably taken a toll. At this point in their careers, doing it week in week out at a club like United is asking too much of their much ravaged limbs. They have not started more than ten games together in either of the previous two campaigns. What Moyes needs to do effectively is to handle these two with care in order to get the best out of them over a sustained period of time. Playing them at a stretch for five consecutive league games may not be the ideal way to go about that.

It is also not as if the manager has to play the duo on a regular basis due to lack of viable alternatives. Jonny Evans over the course of the last two seasons has matured into one of the best centre-backs in the league. Even though both Ferdinand and Vidic were fit for the entire second half of last season, Sir Alex still preferred to pair one of those two with Evans instead of picking both. This had as much to do with the managerai??i??s faith in Evans as with the need to rest one of the elder statesmen.

This season, however, Evans has found himself cooling his heels on the bench as a result of Moyesai??i?? fascination with the legendary pair. His continued omission throughout this period was baffling to say the least. The Northern Ireland internationalai??i??s absence was perhaps most acutely felt during the derby mauling at the hands of Manchester City when Sergio Aguero and co. gave Ferdinand and Vidic a torrid time. After Evans was reinstated to the first team for the game against West Brom, a knock kept him out of the subsequent games against Shakhtar Donetsk and Sunderland. Now that he has regained fitness during the international break, it will be interesting to see whether Moyes is willing to give the Ulsterman an extended run in the first team.

Outside of Evans, there is the talented but raw pair of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. While both are adept and indeed prefer playing at centre-half, their relative inexperience counts against them. Among the two, Jones is probably the one more likely to nail down a starting role soon, but one doubts whether that will be in this season. Beyond that, thereai??i??s always the next transfer window. Interest in Ezequiel Garay may be reignited.

For now though, the situation needs to be fixed from the inside. United can ill afford to drop too many more points if they want to remain in contention for the title. Clashes with Arsenal and Tottenham loom on the horizon. Moyes must sort out the backline before that if he wants to avoid hammerings such as the one received at Eastlands earlier this season.

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