Defending the indefensible

Picture the scene: a massacre of x-rated horror. Certainly not one for the kids; not on a Sunday tea time at least. But this was not some far-flung war-torn land ignored by the west, but Manchester United’s defensive shape, seemingly disregarded by Sir Alex Ferguson. It was brutally exposed by newly promoted Southampton at St Mary’s on Sunday, and oh-so-nearly cost United a second defeat of the campaign.

After all, there have been plenty warnings. Everton bullied United’s back four at Goodison on the opening day of the season, while Fulham should have scored more than an Old Trafford double last month. That is to say nothing of the four the Toffees scored at the back end of last season in a tragi-comic end to the campaign.

Yet, at St Mary’s the old frailties recurred, with both full-backs caught out of position too often, while Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić looked far from the tried-and-trust partnership of old.

True, injuries have disrupted United’s preparations and consistency. Patrice Evra aside, each of Ferguson’s first team defenders has spent time in the physio suite over the past year. Ferguson’s side started the campaign missing four central defenders in Jonny Evans, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Ferdinand. Few squads could cope with that level of disruption, let alone record two victories the opening three matches of the campaign.

Yet, it’s an analysis that misses the underlying point, and downplays the structural problems in Ferguson’s side. Defensive numbers are plentiful at Old Trafford, but after a summer of more generous than usual transfer spend, the question of squad balance still rears its ugly head.

On the south coast the Reds suffered not only for mistakes in defence – Southampton ruthlessly exploited defensive weaknesses at full-back – but a genuine lack of cover through central midfield. Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley, ever neat in possession, were unable to prevent the newly promoted outfit breaking forward in numbers. All too often Ferguson’s side aided Nigel Adkins’ side by committing up to seven players forward, while leaving gaping holes in the rear-guard.

In this there is no surprise that captain Vidić offered an honest assessment of United’ defensive performance after conceding twice on Sunday. Yet, with five goals against already this season, it is an admission that only tells half the story of the Reds’ troubles.

“It was a difficult game and we conceded two goals we’re not happy with at all,” Vidić told MUTV.

“We’ve been told before the game what Southampton’s strengths are, what their game is and what they’re trying to achieve. In the end, they did it so it’s disappointing. I have to say, we are not really pleased with the goals we’ve conceded. There was a lack of concentration, I think, for all four goals we lost [in the last two games] but we have to work on it.

“You have to say we’ve had a lot of turbulence in defence with so many changes and people going in and going out. We didn’t have a constant back four and sometimes it causes a problem, but we look forward to the next games. We have over a week to improve our fitness and obviously our form so we are going to be right for the next game in the Premier League.”

Yet, there is also a question of balance. Those jokes about Ferguson perfecting a new formation – the doughnut – ring true. That, somehow, United’s team has the perfect shape, but nothing in the centre. Judging by the Reds’ defensive concentration this season fans might have cause to wonder whether the joke goes far enough, although after Sunday the premise certainly holds.

And with Vidić now fit, Ferdinand restored, and Evans on the way back, Ferguson has more cover in defence than for some time. Jones, now in full training, and Smalling will provide more cover in the weeks ahead. None of the returnees can ensure United’s midfield offers sufficient cover; nor the Reds’ shape enough protection.

One critical, but perhaps realistic assessment, is that United’s 70-year-old manager has gambled, in recruiting Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa this summer, that more goals will paper over weaknesses in midfield. Particularly the defensive and physical side of United’s engine room that is too frequently exploited to be ignored.

It’s a bet that is already placing significant faith in van Persie’s ability to maintain the goal-a-game start to his United career. On Sunday the Dutchman’s hat-trick secured a last-gasp victory; van Persie won’t always be able to repeat that trick.

In this it is hard to be critical – United fans want attacking football, played in the very finest traditions of the 134-year-old club. All too often in recent years style has been subservient to substance, while neither flourished last season. The sight of Kagawa flitting in between attack and midfield dictating play, and van Persie ruthlessly finishing chances, is one supporters will surely enjoy this season.

Yet, in moving to a progressive formation, and a more attacking philosophy, there is also some irony. After all captain Vidić began the season by demanding United seeks points in precedent to entertainment.

“Sometimes the main thing is to play for three points, not just to enjoy games,” admitted the giant Serbian in August.

“We want to play great football but we want three points and we want the title. I think this year we understand that. But when you don’t win the title, the next year is the one where you think ‘I have to push more, I have to work harder, I have to do better than last year.’”

Hard work alone will not help Ferguson’s men strike the right balance between flooding forward in search of goals, and keeping the ship water-tight. Defensive shape – and midfield personnel – will have just as significant say in the title race this season.

The real question is whether the returning injured can ameliorate the defensive mistakes of the past month. If not, then much as supporters found after last season’s humiliating defeat to City at Old Trafford, Ferguson is likely to eschew attacking prowess in favour of more defensive stability.

In that there is much to ponder.

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Comments

  1. max says

    Evra had. Apoor game yesterday I have to say. I like Evra and I’m a big fan of his + always have been but he just looked lost yesterday and was poor all round to be honest. He needs to up his game. Rafael is quality. Really think he’s a good footballer and he’ll only get better if he plays consistently. Give him games fergie and he will repay u. Hope Fergie doesn’t play jones @ right back next game as I can see it happening just as he did last season. Bloody hope this doesn’t happen again but…
    Maybe give butttner a chance against newcastle in the league cup and let’s see what he can do. He looked quite decent to be fair against spurs U21′s so…
    We’ll be fine though. We just need to get games under our belts and our lads all need to settele and start gelling together. Hate this fucking international break now! Absolute bollocks!

  2. Paul says

    another reason to play 3-5-2, 3 tall centre backs would protect the back post crossesthat expose the lack of height at full back. It would give kagawa freedom to roam and play behind 2 front men from RVP, Rooney, Welbz or Herandez. Let’s face it Welbeck is never a left wing or left hand side of a front 3 player. 2 up front is the way forward and 3-5-2 allows that without sacrificing Kagawa and still keeping 2 in midfield. Jones stepping outof a back 3 when we’ve got the ball with Carrick and Cleverley as the midfield 2 would give so many options. All that is before we getto the wing backs. We’ve got 2 the ideal players forleft and right wingback. Evra, Bettner, Rafael and Valencia. This squad was made to play 3-5-2. I won’t hold my breath though

    • Leif Sward says

      This is a point which both excites me and terrifies me at the same time. On the face of it, it’s a terrific idea making the most of Evra and Rafael’s (or Valencia) attacking abilities without the defence being completely wide open; and defensive crises excepting, we do have more than a couple of centre backs able to do the job of carrying the ball out – Jones especially. It also solves a selection headache up front without the usual shoe-horning into positions and means Young and Nani are not automatic picks.

      However…Utd….back three….really….?

  3. Denton Davey says

    Paul @ 11:29: “This squad was made to play 3-5-2.”

    Actually, from what I’ve seen that’s how the majority of matches are played – it’s just that commentators can’t seem to understand what’s right in front of their eyes because they’re be-dazzled by the now-venerable “flat four at the back”.

    Anyone who thinks that either NinjaEvra or Rafael are kept in the side because of their “defensive abilities” (ahem !) just doesn’t want to know. Both of these guys often play AHEAD of their so-called “wingers”.

    • Nutlaar says

      In this suggested 3-5-2, I presume you’re putting Rio, Vida plus one other centre half in the back 3. Your suggested wing backs mean dropping either Rafael/Valencia at right wing back. Evra left wing back. Cleverly and Carrick in the middle, with Kagawa behind RVP and Wazza.

      In theory that works well, but we would basically be sacrificing an attacking player (Young, Valencia/Rafael, Nani being the main losers here) for the addition of an extra centre half.

      When Citeh played this way against Liverpool, they got completely outplayed (by a poor Liverpool side) and it was clear the third centre-half was wasted.

      Not a fan of 3-5-2 at all, and as you say, we effectively play a similar style anyway, so why the need for an extra centre half? Would much prefer Carrick sitting in front of them and pinging them about the park (admittedly he was very poor yesterday but he is class in that role generally) and we’ve still got Scholesy to come on and pull the strings when teams tire.

      Overall, I am very confident our defensive performances will improve with more game time and less injuries. Rio, Vida, Evans, Jones and Smalling provide a plethora of defensive options. Rafael’s positional sense will develop with maturity and I am hopeful Evra will pull his finger out this season too; to prove he is still one of the best left backs in the world.

      Kagawa and Clevers will provide quicker, more incisive and direct forward passing, and once they start linking up with RVP and Wazza, complemented by Valencia/Young/Nani on the wings, we can be a force once again.

      In that, there are reasons to be positive!

  4. Sitesired says

    I can well remember seasons were we have just ground out 1 nil wins and gone on the win the prem . Vida is correct the end justifies the means . But it never meant we did not enjoy the battle .This is my club and its core values have not changed for me ! Even with cash and carrys vast riches .Im glad im Red ,if we should take a back seat for a while to resolve things fine . We are not Liverpool we will not go of the radar . To the likes of Southampton we are the team to beat .Ugly or not im glad we fought back .

  5. Damian Garside says

    Not just with football managers but with poets scientists and politicians growing old can lead to two extreme outcomes: in one there is not just continuation but final consummation, everything learnt kind of crystallizes, becomes compressed into the hard brilliance of a diamond. Some of the great Dutch and Italian managers were/ are of that ilk.

    The other, far less fortunate, outcome is that one becomes a parody if one’s younger self, stuck humming the old tunes that no one wants to listen to any more (and the voice has lost its sense of harmony anyway).

    So far, I see very little sign that our septuagenarian is a manager in the first category,

  6. eric shalimba says

    i agree with you darmiane see even the way he’s stuck on scholes n giggs the old chap doesnt want to get a new modern midfield with a new modern style of play look at the’balls to van persie’ style he’s resorted to it kills other talented players on the pitch.

  7. Will says

    I think Evra is left unprotected by what I see as a lopsided United formation just now. I feel we need to be a little braver and go back to 4-4-2. At present all our attacks are through a congested middle, or down the right with Valencia/Rafael. Evra is having to play two positions, and he’s struggling. Don’t feel Welbeck is particularly comfortable or capable out left in a front three. Bring back Young and revert to a midfielf four, please Fergie.

  8. says

    Modern 3 – 5 – 2s tend to eschew the 3rd centre back, and put a ball playing, defensively minded midfielder in there (if you’re doing it properly, anyway).

    In that case, you can have that midfielder move the ball out into midfield, and have everyone else press on.

    Kind of like Italy did with De Rossi.

    It could work with Vidic – Carrick – Rio, but it’d be a helluva thing to get working technically, I imagine.

  9. Damian Garside says

    Sir AF is acting as if we do not need a strong, physical presence in CM because United are going to play in a way that renders such players  obsolete.  But we are still waiting to see exactly what this game plan looks like and, most of all, how it is to be executed, and whether when it does happen it is a winner, can be sustained and will get us the title.  So far the signs aren’t encouraging, if we can’t get it together then strong midfields will overrun us worse than panzers in Poland.

    It’s a bit like Sir Alex the magician tapping the top hat with his magical wand repeatedly without any hint that there is a rabbit on there about to pop out. 

  10. Partha says

    It seems there is a growing habit of United supporters trying to find loopholes in everything. I know United conceded goals which were due to a lack of concentration and defensive frailties.

    But does that mean we keep finding opportunities to criticise the team every time we do something stupid? At the end of the day, those players are also human beings and errors are bound to happen.

    A lot of United supporters say that we lose goals due to a lack of defensive midfielder. But has any one really analyzed the same? All goals that we conceded were due to either of the following reasons:

    1. Full backs unable to defend: Look at both goals that we conceded to Southampton

    2. Setpieces: Fellaini and Carrick

    3. An unstable GK: De Gea and Vidic OG

    Yes, we have issues but it is also true that every frikking team has issues one way or the other. When you have so many defenders injured, you are bound to have issues.

    Let us wait for sometime, let the stable back four arise, let them gel together in training and matches alike and then criticize.

    When Fergie was not buying a ‘marquee’ player, people were bashing him and the Glazers. Now that he has bought RVP, there also they are finding flaws saying do we need him?

    We needed some one who is prolific in front of the goal and who brings depth to the team. RVP can play in multiple positions, has great skills and is good with set pieces. When Rooney is injured (like he is now), you know United has some one who is reliable. Welbeck is not the most clinical and Chicharito is unidirectional… What is wrong is SAF goes ahead with some one like RVP?

    I am frustrated reading about all this negativism coming out of United supporters… Common guys, we are not gods and United is a great club. We have the best manager… He may not win the title one year but he still has the drive to come back the next.

    GGMU!

    • says

      Partha – nope it’s not a new trend. Honest assessment is honest assessment. In any case United can’t possibly hope to play a more offensive system and ship less goals. Individual mistakes are easy to point out but it was the system that allowed Southampton to break at will on Sunday. United did the same last season, got spanked by City and played remarkably dull football thereafter.

      • Partha says

        Hmmm…

        I don’t deny that we have had flaws…

        But let us hope for the best and pray that the bunch of players that we have become more formidable and do not lose concentration midway through the games.

        Cheers :)

        Partha

  11. says

    Smalling coming into the team will give us better solidity at the right back position,in my opinion he’s better playing there than anybody else plus he can support the centre backs.Again I think Johnny Evans should be better pairing Vidic centre back.

  12. davek says

    Partha – nice one son. Bit of positivity there, I like it.
    We need to take a breath and let the back four get fit and settled and then see if we improve- all the best fergie teams have had a really solid back four.

    • Partha says

      Thanks :)

      We need to be optimistic. I am sure once our back four stop getting injured, defensive frailties will be sorted.

      If not, next year, we will get out defensive midfielder and a few more defenders.

      Cheers,

      Partha

  13. Denton Davey says

    Ben Hulston @ 5:57: “It [ 3-5-2 ] could work with Vidic – Carrick – Rio, but it’d be a helluva thing to get working technically, I imagine.”

    Why ? If you watch most of UTD’s matches – especially the ones against “inferior” opposition – that’s how the team ALREADY plays. Michael Carrick is a “shield” and Scholes/Cleverley are link-up players so it’s not exactly a 3-5-2 – more a 2-4-3-1 with the midfield “4″ being two full-backs and two midfielders. Using notional “formations” sometimes complicates things but does anyone think that NinjaEvra or TheLittleTiger are in the first-team because of their “defensive abilities” ?

    I know that this thread is about “defensive frailties” but, to my way of thinking, this team is being set up in an attack-is-the-first-line-of-defence system. If that’s so, then the injury to TheWayneBoy was doubly-unfortunate because I see his “natural evolution” as being a key to how SAF integrates RVP and KagawaBunga into the first-team.

    Italy’s team played a successful 3-5-2 against Spain because their two best players – Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo – were in the crucial roles linking the defence with the attack.

    In a world of make-believe, Michael Carrick and a 27 year-old Paul Scholes would do those jobs perfectly well but in the real world Scholes’ legs won’t allow him to play all 90 minutes but he’s awesome as a kind of super-sub. While TheWayneBoy doesn’t have TheGingerNinja’s subtlety on the ball – who does ? – he’s much more of a physical presence with a much-higher energy-level.

    Even allowing for Rooney’s absence, the first half of this season is going to be “experimental” – can SAF create something special with all the attacking talent ? can SAF get a settled back-line ? and, crucially, can SAF mix-and-match his midfielders so that he has two pairings (Cleverley/Anderson as an alternative to Carrick/????)

  14. Nicho says

    Ed….I can understand the sentiment of the article and in particular our issue at CM. However, can you give me your thoughts in relation to Man City only just winning 3-2 in the opening match with a Central Midfield that most, if not all, United supporters would gladly take?

    • says

      Nicho – apples and oranges Nicho. I wasn’t making a comparison with City’s midfield, but given they’ve just signed a couple of defensive midfielders in Garcia (very good) and Rodwell (less good) and had the best defensive record last season you can probably extrapolate from there.

  15. Denton Davey says

    Ed – how much better was City’s midfield last season ? The big difference in the EPL was that they scored three late goals at OT which translated into a goal-difference of “6″; I know that they eventually won the EPL because the final goal-difference was “8″ but UTD’s loss of focus in that one match was really crucial. AND, of course, UTD played the season with minimal inputs from both CaptainVidic and DarrenFletcherinho. Therefore, it seems to me that you are over-emphasizing this difference concerning “the best defensive record”. It’s a common-place that “goals change games” and, surely, giving away three goals in one game against the nearest rival was a massive game-changer. BUT the difference was rather less than is measured in raw statistics.

    • says

      Denton – this is really old ground, but if you really believe United lost the league on one game then that’s a pretty naive assessment in my opinion. There were plenty of problems with United’s squad last season … not least in those last few games.

      • Nicho says

        Well extrapolation is fine Ed but if you extrapolated last season then City would have finished miles ahead would they not? My point was that both United and City (despite their wealth of midfield strength) had tough encounters at Southampton. Perhaps Southampton are going to be tough away games this season and they should be given a little more credit? Time will tell whether or not Fergie get’s our balance right but I don’t think that the first 3 games tells us too much, especially in light of the defensive injuries.

        • says

          Nicho – to be honest I’m really not sure what point you’re trying to make. Do you deny that United has defended shoddily this season? If we set that as the premise, then there’s the question of why. Sure, we can pass it off as injuries. But we can also ask whether the balance of team and tactics is quite right too. It’s a fair question – and one that you’re leading down an odd path.

  16. Denton Davey says

    Ed – that “one game” had two crucial implications:

    First, it occurred at OT; and,

    Second, the scoreline was incredible in terms of goal-difference.

    However, it was not just one game that made a difference – it could be argued that the failure to contain Everton @ OT was even more damaging. And so on.

    It’s a long season and there are always swings-and-roundabouts BUT that “one game” meant the end of UTD’s rampaging early-season “experiment” and a shift to dour, boring, grind-it-out matches. UTD were able to recover their equilibrium and, indeed, gain an 8-point advantage in spite of a spiralling injury lists but, in the end, that 6-goal swing was very, very important.

    Of course, there were “plenty of problems with United’s squad last season” – SAF’s teams are almost-always works-in-progress but losing the captain and number one central defender as well as the key, box-to-box midfielder were serious body-blows.

    To me – and I’m a glass-half-full kinda guy – recovering from all those shocks in the period before the beginning of December was a testament to the importance of “team spirit”.

    Losing # 20 on goal difference was a bitter-pill to swallow but there is a deluded sense of entitlement among UTD followers, many of whom expect TheLads to go 38-0-0 and get all pissy when it turns out that they’re just a team of mortals who fight for what they win.

    Take the rough-with-the-smooth and enjoy the ride.

    • Damian Garside says

      Interesting use of the word “mortals” here, when you clearly mean “unexceptional”. the opposite of mortal us “god” : are you saying the great players are “gods” beyond us, but not beyond Real, Barca, Chelsea or City? CR7 is also mortal, but too expensive a mortal for the likes of us: and so we must accept the unexceptional. Except that the exceptional will beat it nine times out of 10. The days of an unexceptional team winning the EPL are over.

    • says

      Denton – are you suggesting I have a “deluded sense of entitlement”? I do hope not.

      It’s incredibly naive to believe that this team is anywhere near as good as those in the past. The balance of the squad is a sensible question question to ask, especially in midfield. Put it down to bad luck and injuries if you like. But then again there’s that old cliché about madness being defined as doing the same thing over and again and expecting a different result…

    • sitesired says

      @ Denton i consider your reply a very accurate and considered assesment .Thank you for posting it .
      God Damn it i love this Club .

  17. Abe says

    I think the main thing missed out on in the article is the issue of our wingers.
    First of all, anyone who reads this article without actually watching the game, might think that Southampton ran us over. They didn’t. They had far less possesion and chances.
    Second of all, except one occasion, when Puncheon made a fool of Evra, our full backs were not caught out of position, there were hang to dry by the wingers.
    In the first goal, Evra covered Puncheon only to realize too late that Welbeck has no intention of covering Clyne, what did the fans see at home? a Southampton player crossing when Evra is far from him.
    In the second goal, Valencia did actually cover his player. And then, for some reason, Valencia just left him alone, waiting for Rafael to come and cover. Rafael did come, but in the second it took, the Southampton player had a free cross and he took it.
    These things happen all the time. Our wingers don’t cover so either the full back is left exposed or our midfielders come to help, which leaves the middle exposed.
    No Central midfielder can be at more than one place at one time. Until our wingers start tracking back, we’ll continue having these problems and everyone will continue to blame the defense or the central midfielders.

  18. Julian says

    Not for me to question Fergie but then again why not? Apart from the continued absence of a dominant midfielder I question the thinking of buying Kagawa and how fitting him in might have to be done at the expense of say Rooney. Not that I don’t like Kagawa as a player,I do, but is he going to be rotated with Rooney (or vice versa) from now on? Is seeing Rooney on the bench going to be quite a feature this season? If that is the case are we a better side for it? I don’t think so.

    With Valencia, being an old fashioned winger and a very good one too, there has to be balance on the other side. Its very difficult to play a flexible front three, which might allow for both Kagawa and Rooney to play together, with Valencia playing exclusively down the right. We saw this to a certain extent against Soton. It was only when Nani was brought on that we had some balance in attack.

    RVP, Kagawa and Rooney are our best attacking players and potential goalscorers, yet it seems unlikely that all three can or will play together. Very odd!

  19. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    sidney said:
    Hands up who knows what the fuck Damien is on about

    This the hand you mean?

    “Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and ching’ tu madre! Come out from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you.”

  20. Denton Davey says

    Damian Garside @ 12:16: “The days of an unexceptional team winning the EPL are over.”

    errrrr, didn’t an injured and “unexceptional” team finish level on points last season ?

    • Damian Garside says

      How is that contradicting what I said: last season is past tense I.e. over. There are too many exceptional players at Chelsea and City for an unexceptional team to win it in a not that impressive/ not entirely deserved manner as we did on the last couple of occasions.

  21. Denton Davey says

    Julian @ 3:08: “but is he going to be rotated with Rooney (or vice versa) from now on? Is seeing Rooney on the bench going to be quite a feature this season? If that is the case are we a better side for it?”

    TheWayneBoy will not be on the bench – what’s unclear is how SAF is going to organize his attacking talent: 4-4-2 with two “orthodox wingers” ? or something quite different ? But whatever that might be, Rooney is the pivot (or fulcrum) in his plans.

    My guess – and that’s all it is – is the TheWayneBoy will play in “midfield” (whatever that will mean – ahead of Michael Carrick ? beside MIchael Carrick ?OR alongside KagawaBunga ?) Like I wrote earlier ( @ 10:28 – September 4th ) the early part of this season is going to be “experimental”.

    • Julian says

      You may well be right. Kagawa is not a midfielder – he’s more like an old fashioned “inside forward”. So you still have to play two in midfield, one of whom could be Rooney and the other say Carrick or Cleverley. But was all this thought through before pen was put to paper? It must have been surely?

  22. Denton Davey says

    Julian @ 9:01: “So you still have to play two in midfield, one of whom could be Rooney and the other say Carrick or Cleverley. But was all this thought through before pen was put to paper? It must have been surely?”

    I’d think so – otherwise why buy RVP who essentially “duplicates” TheWayneBoy’s role as the main striker.

    SAF has talked a lot about wanting “four strikers” but he has been deafeningly silent about “four midfielders”. Hmmmmm.

  23. marlon says

    I think Fergie has been working towards a Barca style system. Obviously we’re a few years behind. He’s chased the likes of Ozil and Sneijder to fulfil the ‘Iniesta’ role and seems to have settled for Kagawa. Carrick’s revival has coincided his repurposing to Busquets’ role. Scholes is perhaps the only one of those three that can (a few years ago) match his Barca counterpart. His perseverance with Welbeck on the left wing also follows the Barca model, and when he returns to fitness, Rooney may well take over. Valencia’s sudden discovery of his left foot cannot be a coincidence either. In Rooney and RVP we have two strikers who are capable of both leading the line or playing as a false 9 as the game dictates. Our fullbacks too, are notoriously attacking and we’ve signed another forward convert for left-back.

    The entire system relies on the effectiveness of the defensive midfielder, both in terms of his ability to distribute and break up attacks. Carrick has performed well in this role, and would probably be sufficient if the rest of our midfield were up to scratch. Obviously that is not the case – Scholes is on his way out with no replacement in sight (even if we were to go to the market, who is there?). Cleverley and Anderson have been/are promising, but I’m not sure where either fits into this system. What is certain is that neither is a creative genius or a defensive lynchpin. Both then, are competing to replace Scholes. Both are very good passers (Anderson has the edge here, as Cleverley seems to have no range in his passing), both bring more energy to our midfield (once again Anderson has the edge). They also share an injury history long enough to fill an entire career and you wouldn’t really want either starting in your midfield in a CL final if that were to happen today. If you had to describe them with one word, Anderson would be ‘inconsistent’ and Cleverley ‘tidy’ – clearly both are a long way from world class.

    While Fergie continues to fill this hole with the inexperienced, inappropriate, infirm and elderly there won’t be balance.. Carrick as our defensive player is not the problem and neither is Kagawa (early to say it, but I have faith). The dominating box-box midfielder everyone wants would probably work here – Barca’s is a model to follow, not a gospel. Size, aggression and physicality seem to be high on most fans’ wish list but we’ve seen time and time again, good football make fools of players who rely on their size. What we lack is a consistent world class CM – of any size.

    Every season there is hope that Anderson will play like it’s 2008 and now Cleverley has seemingly replaced him as the next big thing. Going to the market would’ve been a more sensible solution to this problem and there were many opportunities to act. Lots of CMs have moved this summer but the next Xavi and Schweinsteiger are still out there (Clasie and Xhaka, if you’re interested) and others will no doubt present themselves as the season progresses. For this season though, it is too late and all we have for that big hole in central midfield is hope.

  24. says

    I want size, physicality and power as an OPTION not a solution. When midfields are put against us to physically dominate us with energy and strength, we have literally no response. Having a mean, powerhouse of a player as an option is a good response to that situation if plan A doesn’t work.

    Additionally, I’d add that Barca’s approach is a good system which brings out more than the sum of the parts – the bonus for them is that most, if not all of the parts, just happen to be the very best parts AS WELL.

    The midfield is way out of whack as everyone agrees, because we have wonky parts which don’t quite fit together. Hopefully time will improve the balance, but we also need a different option.

  25. Denton Davey says

    Ben Hulston @ 1:00: “I want size, physicality and power as an OPTION not a solution.”

    Isn’t THAT what MrJones provides ? When healthy, BigManSmalling could also go toe-to-toe with the likes of GreatBigHugeYaYa and Fellaini (his nick=name is just toooooo obvious !).

  26. Ray says

    One thing I found truly bizarre from Sunday was the marking for the first goal. It wasn’t a fast break from Southampton where defender have to just pick the closest player to them, it was from fairly regular possession and for some reason we were left with Rafael picking up Lambert and Rio marking no-one. Surely the slightest piece of organisation would have seen Rio picking up Lambert.
    We do have an issue in the midfield in that they provide no cover to the defense when not in possession, but that is nothing new, we’ve not had that for a few years. I think the goals we are conceding is down to individual and collective mistakes from the back 5, not the midfield. The midfield would help but when our full back are not preventing crosses coming in, and our defenders going walk about on marking duty I fail to see where the midfield can change that.

  27. says

    No Jones does not provide that, he doesn’t have the positional sense, he’d simply run about a lot and not use his physicality correctly. I’d argue the same for Smalling. They’re built to be centre backs.

    Look at Toure. His positional sense and distribution are incredible, he has experience, and all that on the back of one of the most powerful midfielders in England. Jones / Smalling wouldn’t get near.

  28. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Everyone goes on about the “Barca system”…

    Without Messi, Barcelona would only be a very good team… he makes them exceptional…

    The Barca system only works as well as it does, because teams are terrified of what Messi can do… opposing teams overcompensate for Messi and it gives their other players more room to use the ball.

    Take Ronaldo and Messi out of Spain, and Real is easily the better team.

  29. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Ben Hulston said:
    No Jones does not provide that, he doesn’t have the positional sense, he’d simply run about a lot and not use his physicality correctly. I’d argue the same for Smalling. They’re built to be centre backs.

    Look at Toure. His positional sense and distribution are incredible, he has experience, and all that on the back of one of the most powerful midfielders in England. Jones / Smalling wouldn’t get near.

    Who the fuck was Ya ya Toure 10 years ago?

    What’s the point in comparing Jones to Toure, when there’s 10 years difference between them?

    United didn’t even get Keane till he was 23…

  30. says

    Carrick’s/Cleverly’s role seems unclear at the moment. They both seem to want to occupy the same space with Carrick seeming to be a holding midfielder who’s job it is to sit in front of the back four and be the player to pass to. He’s done well with passing, but not really passed it anywhere special.

    Against soton this was even more noticeable since Kagawa was hung out to dry too often. It wasn’t until Scholes and Hernandez came on and started making more runs (passing and moving) that things started to happen.

    Either Carrick or Cleverly needs to start doing the second part of that passing and moving. Till then we’re gonna be stuck in midfield.

  31. marlon says

    Toure rarely does any defending. When he sits deep, he acts as a playmaker, not a destroyer and obviously when required he is a force going forward as well. (Not comparable to Jones). He is an excellent player who also happens to be a monster, not an excellent player because he’s a monster.

    Our ‘plan a’ doesn’t work because we’re missing a consistent high level player – usually for that you need experience, which is something we tend not to buy. If Fletcher was his old self our CM would be in a very good position – two veterans, two players at their peak and two exciting young players. (It’s a shame we never got to see Fletcher and Carrick playing together with the Carrick of last season and Fletcher of ’09). If we were to buy a CM, I would much rather bring in a player who was going to improve our starting 11, rather than a big guy who could compete as an option on the occasion we play against a Fellaini. I don’t understand that mentality at all. We get bullied because the players aren’t good enough and lack experience, not because they’re too small.

  32. marlon says

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    Everyone goes on about the “Barca system”…

    Without Messi, Barcelona would only be a very good team… he makes them exceptional…

    The Barca system only works as well as it does, because teams are terrified of what Messi can do… opposing teams overcompensate for Messi and it gives their other players more room to use the ball.

    Take Ronaldo and Messi out of Spain, and Real is easily the better team.

    Not sure you can overcompensate for Messi – and if they are it’s not working. You’re definitely underestimating Ronaldo’s importance to Real as well.
    Barca are exceptional without Messi, with him they are in contention to be the best team in history.
    Casillas>Valdes
    Ramos/Pepe>Pique/Mascherano, Alves/Alba>Arbeloa/Marcelo
    Busquets/Xavi/Iniesta>Alonso/Khedira/Modric
    Ozil/Higuain/Di Maria<>Villa/Fabregas/Sanchez

    Where do you get ‘easily the better team’ from?

  33. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    marlon said:
    Not sure you can overcompensate for Messi – and if they are it’s not working. You’re definitely underestimating Ronaldo’s importance to Real as well.
    Barca are exceptional without Messi, with him they are in contention to be the best team in history.
    Casillas>Valdes
    Ramos/Pepe>Pique/Mascherano, Alves/Alba>Arbeloa/Marcelo
    Busquets/Xavi/Iniesta>Alonso/Khedira/Modric
    Ozil/Higuain/Di Maria<>Villa/Fabregas/Sanchez

    Where do you get ‘easily the better team’ from?

    Where do you get that they’re not?

    Given the choice, I’d take Ronny over Messi… that’s not the point… Barcelona are over rated without Messi… you don’t agree, and have actually bothered to make a list to prove me wrong… as if that’s definitive… we won’t agree on it, and you’re daft, if you think I’m going to argue this nonsense with you… I hate these FM debates.

  34. says

    I’m not sure about Messi. He’s definitely a good player, but I often wonder how much he’s carried by his Barcelona teammates. If he’s really that good, why isn’t Argentina better?
    I would like to see how Messi would do on another team.

  35. AnantaxAnantax says

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    Who the fuck was Ya ya Toure 10 years ago?

    What’s the point in comparing Jones to Toure, when there’s 10 years difference between them?

    United didn’t even get Keane till he was 23…

    Agree on this. Both Jones and Cleverly still have time to develop into world class players, Jones more than C obviously.

    It doesnt change my viewpoint that United needs a midfielder, but comparing Jones to Toure is not fair…

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