Defence Not Rooneys Goal Drought Is Uniteds Achilles Heel
All eyes have been on the international games this week but at the privacy of Manchester United’s Carrington training complex, Sir Alex Ferguson will have been pondering his alarmingly porous defence and asking whether his leaky defence will cost him a shot at the title.
The facts speak for themselves. United have conceded more Premier League goals this term than any other side in the top eight and while Wayne Rooney’s failure so far to find the back of the net is the more eye-catching headline, United’s defensive frailty is the real story of the their season.
The good news is reinforcements are on their way. Chris Smalling’s return to the fray from a foot injury is imminent while Phil Jones’ knee is also rapidly mending and while it will be a month at the earliest before Nemanja Vidic is ready to do battle again, Fergie can breathe a cautious sign of relief that he won’t have to deploy Michael Carrick at centre-half again.
But United’s recent injury woes have merely been part, rather than the whole of the problem.
Fergie himself has to shoulder a degree of blame. His uncharacteristic inability to decide whether David de Gea or Anders Lindergaard is his number one has done nothing to foster confidence or continuity at the back.
The lack of a genuine holding midfielder with real bite in the tackle and an appetite for destruction has left the defence exposed, and although the welcome return of Darren Fletcher after illness may alleviate that problem, United still feel short of real steel in the middle of the park.
Then there is Rio Ferdinand’s ageing legs. The way he was comprehensively outstripped by Gareth Bale for Spurs’ second in the 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford was a cruel confirmation he is merely mortal these days and although his England exile will no doubt prolong his club career, he’s a player in terminal decline.
Ferdinand turns 34 next month and sooner rather than later the next generation will be forced to pick up the baton - whether they are ready or not. In the case of Jonny Evans, the jury remains firmly divided.
United have always enjoyed a reputation for their attacking, incisive football and in previous years, such has been the panache with which they have dismantled teams that it has been all too easy to overlook the quiet efficiency of the defence. Goals are sexy but block tackles are not.
So far that sense of security at the back has been conspicuous by its absence. The enforced chopping and changing of centre-halves has been unsettling while the summer signing of Alex Buttner confirmed the suspicion that Fergie believes Patrice Evra is no longer the force he once was. Rafael da Silva on the right remains an enigma capable of both the sublime and the ridiculous.
Robin van Persie’s goals will continue to hide a multitude of sins and Rooney will inevitably hit his straps as well, but that kind of artillery won’t be enough if United don’t tighten up.
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