The defence has it

January 17, 2011 Tags: , , , , Opinion 23 comments

Should Manchester United complete a 19th domestic title come May it will have little to do with star player Wayne Rooney. Nor, though influential, will Nani take the plaudits. Ditto Dimitar Berbatov, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Anderson. Much as United’s attacking players can take overdue credit for becoming the division’s the second highest goalscorers, it is the defence that will win it.

Indeed, so imperious have captain Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand been this season that there is surely no better central defensive partnership in world football. Coupled with Patrice Evra’s status as the finest left-back on the planet, Rafael da Silva’s rapid progress and Edwin van der Sar’s assured composure and United may well land the title despite a paucity of creative options.

United’s strengths and weaknesses were exposed against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, with the Reds watertight in defence despite playing the final quarter with 10 men. At the same time, United created too few chances to win at White Hart Lane as the visitors drew an eighth Premier League match on the road this season.

No wonder Sir Alex Ferguson was fulsome in his praise of his back five, whose control over Rafael van der Vaart, Peter Crouch, Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon was almost total. That Spurs managed just two strikes on target is symptomatic of just how well marshalled Vidic’s colleagues are this season.

“The kind of pressure we were under were just long balls into the box really,” claimed Ferguson today.

“With Ferdinand and Vidic as your centre-backs you know you can cope with that. They were fantastic. The whole back four did really, really well.

“In the context of Tottenham’s home record this season and the performances they have given, we have got to take it as a good point for us.”

Even Rafael, harshly sent off for a second bookable offence with twenty minutes to go, drew praise from colleagues for another mature performance that largely kept Bale at check.

Should United win the title by that single point gained in London then Ferguson will be have much to celebrate. Yet, it is not a single season transformation in United’s play that has seen the Reds become so secure at the back. Critics can – and do – point to the fundamental change in United’s style over the past decade, from the side that scored three against Barcelona, twice, in the swashbuckling 1999 season, to the often overly cautious outfit we see today.

While United did not exactly morphed Jose Mourinho’s Inter at Camp Nou circa Spring 2010, there have been times when the Reds have performed a passable impression. It is not the ‘United way’ perhaps but one that fans have become accustomed too over the past decade.

Part of United’s metamorphosis over the years is down to Ferguson’s obsession with performing in Europe. Largely it has worked. Yet, much of the Reds’ style this season is surely down to the dearth of attacking creative talent in the squad, with Rooney too often anonymous, Nani still inconsistent, Antonio Valencia injured and Paul Scholes’ legs finding no friend in father time.

It showed against Spurs, with the Reds managing just seven shots – on target or not – in the match. No enough for the pretenders to Chelsea’s thrown. Similar sterile performances have been evident in many of United’s away fixtures at home and abroad this season.

“We didn’t bother them too much,” admitted Ferguson

“We had one or two good opportunities at times when we got to the last third of the field but we just didn’t quite have the cutting edge. In the second half Anderson attacked the back four four times and maybe his selection of pass or a shot on goal would have been better.”

It is, always has been and one wonders whether it always will be the Brazilian’s principal failing. For a player so widely touted – including by Ferguson himself – as the natural successor to Scholes, Anderson does not score, nor create goals or even retain possession more than three-quarters of the time.

In defence United’s resources will be stretched in coming games, with Rafael set to miss at least one match, possibly more, after the Football Association charged the 20-year-old defender with improper conduct today. Little wonder after the youngster both disputed referee Mike Dean’s erroneous decision and then refused to promptly leave the field.

“It was Mary Decker and Zola Budd,” said Spurs’ manager Harry Redknapp in the Brazilian’s defence.

“He was just running and he has clipped Benoît’s heels. He has not broken his stride and stuck a leg out, saying ‘I’ll trip him’. He was trying to get out of the way.”

But with Rafael out, John O’Shea injured and Wes Brown all but forgotten at Old Trafford, Ferguson may turn to the Brazilian’s brother Fabio, who featured in United reserves’ 8-0 win over Bury this week. Often touted as the more talented sibling, Fabio’s progress has been hampered by Evra’s outstanding form and persistent injuries.

With Rafael set to miss fixtures against Birmingham City and potentially Blackpool in the coming week, Fabio’s ability to integrate into United’s outstanding back-five will be severely tested. As will United’s title credentials.


uncleknobheadforfucksake - January 18, 2011 Reply

surely no one except the fuckwit portion of utd fans and the odd frog think evras better than cole, he’s miles behind tbf

I hadn’t even thought of who would play with rafa out, its gonna be neville aint it ffs

Bill - January 18, 2011 Reply

Good article. I feel a bit more confident of winning the league looking at it that way. As you say United are expected to play a certain brand of football.

ian - January 18, 2011 Reply

Yep, VDS & Rio are master craftsmen & Vidic is a Sebian monster & Raphael is going to be a star, but Evra this season has been great going forwards but suspect defensively. I don’t see why Fabio given enough games, it has taken Raphael quite a few games, should not be as good as his twin. Don’t forget Smalling, the lad has class.

Bill - January 18, 2011 Reply

If we win the league this year it will be a bonus. You’ve got to say that Chelsea are looking in trouble this season and for the future. City, Arsenal and ourselves have some quality young players in the 1st team rotation, Chelsea definitely haven’t.

Alfonso Bedoya - January 18, 2011 Reply

uncleknobheadforfucksake said:
surely no one except the fuckwit portion of utd fans and the odd frog think evras better than cole, he’s miles behind tbf

I hadn’t even thought of who would play with rafa out, its gonna be neville aint it ffs

Come on Knobby… Cole might be a better left back… but he’s cock cheese… and Evra would kick his arse in a fight.

Brett - January 18, 2011 Reply

So Rafaels indistinguishable twin brother Fabio will be play at right back.. sounds like a good plan.

danniitronix - January 18, 2011 Reply

Alfonso Bedoya said:
Come on Knobby… Cole might be a better left back… but he’s cock cheese… and Evra would kick his arse in a fight.

Knobby showing what a bitter Blues cunting supporter he is – after his bumchum Lumpcrap is performing like wank and John Tezza is an utter waste of shit being propped up by Ivanovic, now suggesting that another Chavvy thundercunt that is Cole is better than Evra.

fuck right off you bitter Chav supporting cunt. Oh guess what, Gerrard is turned to shit too along with another one of your Scouse bum chums Carra’.

Any King Kenny – what a great record, out of cup, lost to blackpool and a draw at home to Neverton.

sukhy5 - January 18, 2011 Reply

Anyone who actually watches the full 90 mins of a match rather than ‘I love watching MOTD whilst eating meat pies’ will state that Ashley Cole has been gash this season.


Ben Hulston - January 18, 2011 Reply

Completely disagree that Evra is “miles behind” Cole.

They’re pretty damn similar. I’d like to see Evra score the odd goal more often, which Cole does, but other than that, they are extremely similar. I think Evra is significantly tougher in the tackle, though.

The defence has been consistently the top performers throughout the last few years for United. As a settled back four, I doubt there’s any finer in the Premier League.

I do despair for our attack though? Where did it all go wrong?

eddieTheRed - January 18, 2011 Reply

The difference between Cole and Evra is that when Cole screws up it’s everyone else’s fault but his; when Evra screws up it’s Evra’s fault and he holds his hand up!

They’re about even in terms of honours won but Evra of course, has a coveted European Cup medal to his name. Evra’s willingness to sacrifice himself for the team versus Cole’s complete and utter selfishness is why Patrice gets my vote every time!

Calvino - January 18, 2011 Reply

Knobby, even you have outdone yourself here. Cole is over the hill and far out of sight at least as far as the season is concerned! The biggest problem Evra has had this season is the absences of Valencia and now Park. When he has Giggs infront of him he has to play that whole flank on his own!! Not easy at all. If he had Park then he knew that he can bomb on as much as possible knowing there will be cover. When it is Nani he knows that the opposition will be too worried about the Portuguese and so he has the freedom to roam.

He is a fierce tackler and takes pride in defending. Now in tandem with Rio and Vida he is as good as ever. Fabio HAS to start at RB next match or worse Smalling. Neville must NOT even be in the 17 man squad.

mongoletsi - January 18, 2011 Reply

That’s bollocks. Even now Giggs tracks back well. No idea where you get that from. Agree with you otherwise :o)

sukhy5 - January 18, 2011 Reply

Neville? Fucking hell. I still love him…

Where the fuck is Wes Brown?!?!?!?

Triggs - January 18, 2011 Reply

He played for the Reserves yesterday.

uncleknobheadforfucksake - January 18, 2011 Reply

obviously aint watched cole this season as much as evra, evras been crap, oh its because he’s had no one to help him, coles just better, all sensible people know this,

Triggs - January 18, 2011 Reply

Both are lauded more than they should be. Particularly Cashley, whose dip in form is one of the key reasons for Chelsea’s general crapness since about October.

Evra is a very good player, but not great.

uncleknobheadforfucksake - January 18, 2011 Reply

in the same way sensible utd fans knew ruud was no henry

Triggs - January 18, 2011 Reply

and Henry was no Zidane

and Zidane was no Maradona

and Lady Gaga was no Madonna

Dinkinflicker - January 18, 2011 Reply

The stand-in for Rafael, should be… Rafael. Just stick the name Fabio on his shirt and we’re sorted.

Written Offside - January 18, 2011 Reply

Good article and agree that defence is key. Vida and Rio clearly the best CB partnership in Europe (can’t think of any that come close).
Only problem with Evra is occasional lack of concentration and also how he makes little effort to get back in position when he gets caught out. When on-form he is very good both in defence and attack.
Rafael will only improve as he gets more experience.

I would like to see Fabio at RB this weekend.

herbie simms - January 20, 2011 Reply

I hope you guys have read David Gill’s article today.
Just what I have been saying, well now its coming direct from David Gill. Check it out.

Ed - January 20, 2011 Reply

herbie – absolutely nothing new from Gill there. Same ‘we make starts, we don’t buy them’ line. Nice PR when Rooney signed but anybody really believe a flood of world talent is coming?

herbie simms - January 20, 2011 Reply

I don’t believe in spending millions on players from different parts of the world and then expect them to play together as a team. It takes time to get positive results with a team full of different nationalities.

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