Tag Injury Crisis

Tag Injury Crisis

Crocked Vidić leaves Reds’ squad exposed

Ed September 25, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 20 comments

It could hardly be a more devastating blow; the news that captain Nemanja Vidić will miss two months of the season after undergoing a second operation on his damaged right knee. Vidić missed five months of the previous campaign having suffered a double tear to medial and cruciate ligaments in Manchester United’s match against FC Basel in Switzerland last December.

It is likely to be late December before the giant Serbian defender is fully match-fit once again, with the 30-year-old having looked decidedly rusty in the opening six matches of the campaign. Vidić will miss at least seven Premier League games with the meniscus tear and three Champions League matches.

Vidić’s injury comes at the worst possible time, with Rio Ferdinand visibly hobbling through last Sunday’s victory over Liverpool at Anfield. Meanwhile, Jonny Evans has only recently returned from an ankle operation – an injury that the Irishman admitted earlier this month is still causing pain and stiffness. Adding to a lengthening injury list, Chris Smalling will not return until October after tearing a thigh muscle, while Phil Jones is suffering both with a persistent back problem and a strained right calf.

“Nemanja Vidic has had a meniscus operation on his right knee and will be out for around eight weeks,” read a drab club statement on Tuesday.

“Sir Alex, as a precautionary measure, rested Vidic at the weekend, after he complained of tightness in his knee, however, further medical investigation revealed the underlying problem. The central defender was operated on this week and will be sidelined for about eight weeks.”

Vidić’s operation leaves Sir Alex Ferguson with just two senior central defenders in Ferdinand and Evans: the former struggling through Sunday’s game and Evans short of sharpness. Indeed, it is likely that the Irishman will play against Newcastle United on Wednesday as Ferguson seeks to bring the 24-year-old up to speed. Evans will now play a crucial role in the run up to Christmas – just as the Belfast-born player did following Vidić’s injury at Basel last season.

Yet, whatever the numbers at Ferguson’s disposal, a third defensive injury crisis in as many seasons begs plenty of questions. Not least whether the club’s policy of spending big on attacking players this summer – Shinji Kagawa, Robin van Persie, Nick Powell, Ángelo Henríquez – was the right one, especially with so many of Ferguson’s defenders having a poor injury record in recent times.

While Ferguson brought Alexander Büttner to the club in support of, or competition for, Patrice Evra, Rafael da Silva is the only other United defender to have not suffered injury this season. That in itself is a bonus, with the Brazilian youngster having developed a well-earned reputation for lengthy spells on the sideline.

Then there is he vexed question of squad planning. One injury crisis is unfortunate and two suspicious; three in as many seasons begins to look like the manager has failed to learn from history. Many have made the same observation about United’s central midfield.

Ferguson’s problems will exacerbate further if Michael Carrick is forced into central defence once again. The 30-year-old struggled during United’s defeat to Everton on the opening day, and then once again for United’s narrow win over Fulham at Old Trafford.

After all, while Carrick and partner Ryan Giggs were thoroughly dominated by Liverpool’s midfield last Sunday, it is not as if Ferguson has a bounty of riches in the engine room from which to extricate Carrick if necessary.

Yet, Vidić’s loss may become a youngsters gain, with Scott Wooten and Michael Keane also now in contention both for the Capital One Cup tie against the Geordies on Wednesday, and United’s fixture with Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford next weekend. Wooten spent much of last season on loan at Peterborough United, while Keane made his competitive début for the club in last season’s Carling Cup.

“I’ve been really impressed with young Michael Keane,” said Evans of the 19-year-old who won the Denzil Haroun Reserve Team Player of the Year last season.

“I think his brother has been getting more of the headlines over the last couple of years. Will’s also a fantastic player but obviously he’s got an injury at the minute. I’ve been really impressed with Michael when he’s stepped up into training with us and I can see him getting a bit of a run-out if things go well.”

On a more serious note, however, United’s ability to challenge on all fronts this season will surely be hampered by defensive shortages. The open midfield deployed this season, together with frequent changes in the Reds’ back-four, have led to six goals being shipped already, with far greater challenges ahead.

Unfortunately for Ferguson, while United’s schedule is packed during Vidić’s absence, the Reds also face some testing opponents. In addition to Spurs next weekend, United face Chelsea, Arsenal, and visit Newcastle before November is out. The Derby with Manchester City at Eastlands is scheduled for 8 December.

Whether Vidić ever returns to the form that made him one of Europe’s finest defenders is now surely open to question. Rustiness in the opening matches of the campaign was understandable. So too a permanent dip in performance levels or, more specifically, pace cannot be unrealistic.

Add Ferdinand’s age into the mix and Ferguson may be forced to phase out two of his stalwarts this season; providing the pair’s replacements can keep themselves fit that is. Smalling’s pace and power, Evans progression, and the multi-talented Jones offer much promised. None of it can be fulfilled from the physio’s bench.

Injury crisis ends as Reds warm to Europa League

Ed February 19, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 14 comments

Manchester United’s victory over Ajax in Amsterdam on Thursday came almost 27 years after the club’s last win in the competition. Defeats to Russian outfits Rotor Volgograd and Torpedo Moscow in the intervening years came as the club increasingly focused on European glory in the continent’s premier competition. Indeed, while the positive messages are to be heard loud and clear from United’s hierarchy about the Europa League this week, there is little escaping the club’s isolation. Kick off at 6pm on a Thursday, in a competition that nobody at Old Trafford really wanted to be involved in, is proof enough of that seclusion, if any is needed.

Perhaps this showed in United’s first half performance at the Amsterdam ArenA on Thursday; one of such sluggish impotence that Ferguson was moved to angry post match criticism of his side, despite the Reds’ 2-0 win. The Scot’s outfit may well warm to the Europa task as the competition nears its dénouement, with aggregate victory over Ajax now surely assured, but mentally perhaps, this was no easy opening.

“I think the result was better than the performance,” Ferguson admitted, after United scored twice in the second half to put away the crisis stricken Dutch.

“The first half was disappointing. It was difficult to get the rhythm and speed to the game. Ajax made it very difficult for us with their system. They pressed the ball very well. In the second half we had to wake up. We made it difficult for ourselves.

“I just think we didn’t speed up our game enough. I know they pressed the ball very well and left their centre-backs to make most of the progress with the ball, but we needed to play quicker. The second half we improved, made some good opportunities and deserved to win. It’s a good result. You can’t complain too much when you win 2-0 away from home.”

Lack of a trailblazing performance notwithstanding, there were positives for Ferguson’s side, with the manager now able to stretch his European squad at Old Trafford next Thursday night. The Scot will surely call in his squad’s fringe, those players needing minutes and, perhaps, those of a younger persuasion. In a competition that frequently squeezes preparation time for the following weekend’s Premier League fixture, Ferguson will be grateful for an easier ride in the coming week.

Higher on the United manager’s agenda though will be an apparent easing of the Reds’ injury crisis, which at times has seen 11 senior players on the treatment table. Captain Nemanja Vidić and midfielder Darren Fletcher are unlikely to play again this season, despite positive early prognosis for the former. Meanwhile, there is no return in sight for errant Brazilian Anderson, nor Michael Owen.

But the Scot will be delighted to include Ashley Young, Nani, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in his matchday squad on Thursday. Each has played a key role at times this season, but suffered from injury or loss of form in recent months. Young’s goal in an otherwise insipid performance was a bonus. The former Aston Villa man will certainly need to improve on his sharp decline in form before injury struck two months ago. Meanwhile, Nani shanked his first corner behind for a goal kick. It rarely got better from there – far from the Portuguese’s best performance in a Red shirt.

Then there was Jones, who put in another bombastic performance at right-back, adding to Ferguson’s options and – if no further clarity on the subject – to the debate over which of the Scot’s men should be deployed at right-back.

None of this was Thursday’s highlight, although genuinely positive. Indeed, result, returnees and even a Red invasion of Amsterdam’s less than salubrious establishments pale into comparison to Tom Cleverley’s hour in a United shirt. The 22-year-old midfielder has played just 58 minutes since 10 September, but returns as the clichéd ‘new signing’ Ferguson was denied by the Glazer family’s parsimony in the winter transfer window. For this alone, Ferguson could embrace the Europa League in the past week.

Cleverley was safe in his passing, but struggled to impose his game on Ajax’ youthful team. That will come with time, fitness and confidence – and nobody in United’s squad can match the youngster’s pass-and-move midfield style.

“I’m delighted for Tom Cleverley,” said 19-year-old Jones, who completed the full 90 minutes in Amsterdam.

“He’s a terrific talent. We missed him on the pitch while he was out. But I saw him every day in the gym so I know his attitude’s fantastic. He deserved to be out there tonight. Ashley’s also terrific. He’s come back from injury and done really well and I was pleased for him to get our first goal tonight.”

In a season when injuries have seemingly not rained, but poured, bright news would never come without a downside; every silver cloud has a touch of darker lining. Indeed, injury to Antonio Valencia, United’s most dangerous player since the New Year turned, comes as a significant blow to the Reds’ hopes. Injury is likely to keep the Ecuadorian on the sidelines for a month in which United faces not only Ajax, but Tottenham Hotspur and two further European matches.

“He has a hamstring injury unfortunately. It will be four weeks,” Sir Alex confirmed on Thursday.

“It’s a blow to lose Valencia tonight, but bit by bit, we are getting stronger with Nani and Ashley Young coming back. Tom Cleverley has played a bit of football tonight and Phil Jones has played a full game which is good for us. Chris Smalling was on the bench but will play in the return match at Old Trafford next Thursday.”

Those returning players will now face two games against Lokomotiv Moscow or Athletic Bilbao next month, unless Ajax pulls off an unlikely three goal victory at Old Trafford. The Russians’ 2-1 victory in Moscow sets up a tense return in Basque country next week, with Ferguson, his players and United’s supporters likely to place faith in the Spaniards’ ability to turn the tie around.

Assuming United make it through it will be the first time since the Reds beat Dundee United by the odd goal in nine that United has progressed in the Europa League or its predecessor. That result came in December 1984, two years before Ferguson’s tenure at Old Trafford began. And while the feeling of goodwill about the current incarnation of the tournament currently resides with an opponent’s location, and a lessening injury crisis, more victories such as that last Thursday may turn the remaining doubters around.

Reds five up but 11 down

Ed December 28, 2011 Tags: Opinion 3 comments

Perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson should arrange an injury crisis every week, because the current Old Trafford incarnation has certainly put a pep in the Scot’s side over the past week. Once facing up to the New Year behind title rivals Manchester City, United could now top the Premier League before the year is out. Moreover, with 10 goals for and none against in the past week, Ferguson’s side has rapidly closed on City’s goal difference advantage too.

Yet, it is a strange week in which United has returned to the trailblazing form of the late summer, scoring five against both Fulham and Wigan Athletic in the space of six days. In doing so Ferguson’s side has coped without a full team of injured players. Indeed, the Scot was forced to deploy Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia in the back four at Old Trafford on Monday as the list of absentees mounts.

Ferguson was already without half-a-dozen long-term injury victims before the weekend, with Tom Cleverley, Anderson, Michael Owen, Fabio da Silva and Nemannja Vidić all out of the Scot’s side for weeks to months. The United manager can hardly have relished calls from Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, each falling victim to a seasonal virus. Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand’s troublesome back has forced the 33-year-old out of United’s past three matches, and Ashley Young will be on the sidelines for weeks with ankle trouble.

Worse news came during the victory over Roberto Martinez’ relegation-threatened outfit as Jonny Evans limped out of the match after pulling a hamstring. The Northern Irishman will miss around a fortnight. Evans is simply the latest in a crisis that now leaves Ferguson without 11 players.

No wonder that Ferguson was beaming with his patched-up side’s performance at Old Trafford, even if the goal tally was more than aided by referee Phil Dowd’s bizzare decision to send off Wigan striker Conor Sammon during the first half.

“We have had a nightmare in the last few days,” admitted Ferguson, who at least can welcome back Rafael da Silva back into his squad.

“Phil Jones came down ill, Chris Smalling was ill and Rio called off with a back injury in training, all within a few hours of each other. Then Jonny Evans came off injured at half- time. It does put some pressure on but fortunately we had a good first half and we’ve managed to get through the game and score some goals.

“I said some weeks ago someone is going to suffer against us and we are really hitting good form now. There’s a real goal threat from us from all departments. It’s a long season and, if we can be top or joint top on New Year’s Day, I’ll be happy.”

Jones and Smalling could return for United’s 31 December fixture with Blackburn Rovers; a match that should take the Reds top, with City away at Sunderland on New Year’s day. And while Roberto Mancini’s men play again before United travel to Newcastle United on 4 January, City will face Liverpool at Anfield with less than 48 hours rest. It could prove to be a pivotal period in the Premier League season, when City’s seemingly iron-clad grip on the title race is permanently loosened.

Then comes the derby with City on 9 January as United visits Eastlands in the FA Cup. First, however, Ferguson could use nearly a dozen players returning to the squad.

“I am a little bit worried because we need everyone if we are going to win the league,” added Evra, who was forced to play the second half against Wigan in central defence.

“It is starting to get annoying. It is not the first year we have had so many injuries. Two years ago I played with Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher at the back. The most important thing is that we won but I hope everyone gets fit because Blackburn is another big game and we need all the defenders.”

Ferguson should at least have greater options in defence for the match with bottom club Blackburn, although the rash of injuries midfielder Park Ji-Sung described as the “worst he has ever known” will surely threaten the Reds’ ambitions if it continues at the current heightened rate. But even if Ferguson’s resources are depleted for some time – and with a squad few believe is comparable to previous vintages – then the Scot’s ability to drive his more limited options to glory will again be required.

“This is the United spirit,” adds Evra.

“If you want to win, you have to accept it. You can see Antonio Valencia playing right-back as well. Only because United play like a team. The team is the star, not only one player, that’s why you can put me and Michael Carrick at centre-back; we’re going to win because it’s the team effort and team spirit.”

It has served United well in matches against Fulham and Wigan over the past week. Perhaps none more so that Dimitar Berbatov, who has returned to form with a flurry of superbly taken goals. Berbatov is scorer of four in two matches, yet the Bulgarian has been largely a peripheral figure this season.

Greater challenges, of course, lie ahead. But for the moment supporters can bask in the warmth of two thumping victories and a side playing some attractive football.

Injuries bite into United’s chances

Ed March 17, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 22 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will need every one of his 25-man squad in the coming weeks, with up to a dozen players missing for this weekend’s fixture with Bolton Wanderers. Indeed, the 69-year-old Scot will dig deep into Manchester United’s resources after John O’Shea and Rafael da Silva were forced out of the Reds’ victory over Marseille at Old Trafford on Tuesday night. Worse news came Thursday morning, with confirmation that influential defender Rio Ferdinand could miss the rest of United’s season.

The defensive problems mean that Ferguson has just four fit defenders for Wanderers’ visit to Old Trafford on Saturday, with Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans also struggling to make the Lancashire derby. The injuries threaten to seriously derail United’s progress at home and abroad in the coming week.

Indeed, United’s victory over Marseille in the Champions League round of 16 on Tuesday night came despite a rash of defensive changes. The back-four of Patrice Evra, Chris Smalling, Wes Brown and Fabio da Silva that completed the tie will almost certainly start at the weekend.

“It was nervy because so many players came off with injuries,” said Ferguson of Tuesday’s tie.

“It shifted the balance of the team. I would have rather brought on Darron Gibson because the problem was always going to be [Marseille’s] height and it caused us problems.

“In defence it was maybe a lack of understanding between the players. We have changed the back four many times and without the experience of Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand you are going to be under pressure at times with the young players we have.”

Injured United XIIt’s a challenge United will now face with trepidation. While Smalling’s progress has been remarkable this season, his form has noticeably dipped when the reassuring presence of Ferdinand or Vidic is absent. Understandable, of course, given the 20-year-old’s lack of top-flight experience.

But the former Fulham defender, alongside Brown, who has been ostracised for long stretches of the current season, will be required for the Bolton game at a minimum. The international break will provide some relief but there is no guarantee United’s problems will ease over the next fortnight. Ferguson can only hope that the packed international fixture list does not bring further bad news.

“Rio has been out for a few weeks now,” added Ferguson today.

“We are not looking at this as a short-term situation. He has not started training yet. We will be lucky to get him back for some part of the season.

“Vidic won’t make it. He is showing good recovery for this week and should be OK after the international break but not enough for Saturday.

“It has been a bad spell for us. Only a few weeks ago we had every defender fit and things were looking great. It has all just fallen apart in the last week or so. Hopefully Jonny Evans may be fit for Saturday, even if it is a bit of a risk. He has trained all week but he has been out for such a long time.”

But risks are what Ferguson must now take, whether including Evans or not. And the problems, while highlighted in the back-four, are all over the pitch with a dozen players probably missing for Saturday. Paul Scholes will miss the next two matches through suspension, while Park Ji-Sung, Anderson, Owen Hargreaves, Darren Fletcher and Michael Owen will not feature until April at the earliest.

Reports today that Ferguson has finally lost patience with Owen will come as no surprise. The former Liverpool striker will almost certainly be allowed to leave the club this summer when he is out of contract.

Even reserve goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard could miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, which was operated on this week.

Then, if only to add to Ferguson’s problems, neither Nani nor Antonio Valencia are fully fit, while Ryan Giggs has only recently returned from a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

Injuries of course are simply part of the game and United’s resources, although thinner than at many times over the past decade, are still ample. Indeed, Ferguson can draft in youngsters from the reserves and academy at almost any time. Joshua King, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Ravel Morrison have each made brief appearances in the United first team – or bench – this season.

Not that Ferguson will be overseeing any of United’s next five domestic fixtures, having accepted – reportedly with great reluctance – the FA’s draconian five match touchline ban for criticising referee Martin Atkinson. The Yorkshire-born official sent off United’s captain Vidic, handed Chelsea a penalty, and failed to dismiss David Luiz – effectively winning the Londoners a key fixture. As he normally does, some might add, especially given that it was the second time in as many seasons that Atkinson has materially affected United’s result at Stamford Bridge.

That, Ferguson says, is now “in the past”. Unfortunately, United’s injury concerns are not.

 

Nani plays as Reds start season short

Ed July 25, 2010 Tags: , Matches, Opinion 5 comments

Nani starts for Manchester United against Kansas City Wizards tonight but Sir Alex Ferguson will begin the new season short of key players through injury and recuperation. Indeed, the Scot may not have a fully fit squad until the Autumn, with United navigating four domestic fixtures before the Champions League begins in September.

Without Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen, Anderson and Owen Hargreaves against Newcastle United on 16 August, the Scot’s World Cup contingent, together with Gary Neville and Antonio Valencia, will also likely to be short of match fitness.

Following a season of frustrating injuries in 2009/10, Ferguson will undoubtedly rue his luck as the new campaign begins in much the same fashion. There is, however, at leas some hope with Ferdinand returning in around six weeks’ time according to the Scot, Owen before September’s end and Neville and Valencia now back in training.

Ferdinand’s injuries are now routine of course, with back problems very likely to reduce the England captain’s appearances over the course of the season. This will come either directly, as afflicted the 31-year old much of last season, or more probably, circuitous knee, groin and calf problems will force the defender into the physio’s room.

No wonder the sense of relief engulfing the manager on agreement with Nemanja Vidic over an, as yet unsigned, new contract.

Neville and Valencia could return for United’s fixture with a League of Ireland XI at Dublin’s newly rebuilt Ariva Stadium on 4 August, just four days short of the Community Shield against Chelsea at Wembley. While Rafael da Silva has featured against both Philadelphia Union and Celtic on the summer tour, Neville will still play a significant role in the coming season.

Valencia will undoubtedly be a key player in United’s campaign in both the Premier League and Europe in the coming season.

Meanwhile, Hargreaves’ future looks bleak, sequestered as he is to Dr Richard Steadman’s Denver clinic. The total of the Canadian born international’s United career over close to two years is just three games in 2008/9 and 30 seconds action against Sunderland last season.

Ferguson must also wait on Anderson, the Brazilian, whose disappointing campaign last time out was cut short by a left anterior cruciate ligament injury. Indeed, so poor had the midfielder’s form been that United countenanced cashing in on the player during the January transfer window, only to receive only loan or low bids for the player.

If injury has in effect saved Anderson’s position at the club then an early October return provides the midfielder with a first opportunity to repay a debt he still owes the club.

United’s World Cup contingent, including Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, Park Ji Sung, Patrice Evra and Vidic return in around a week as planned but the extended break will leave the quintet effectively five matches short of full fitness.

Javier Hernández begins his return three days earlier against Chivas Guadalajara in Mexico next Friday. The £ 7 million signing will play 45 minutes for each side as part of the April deal that took the striker to Old Trafford.

The effect of injury and the World Cup means that Ferguson will not have a full fit, match sharp squad until the leaves begin falling and some tough matches passed. But with so little added to the squad this summer the manager can ill afford any squad shortcomings, especially at a time when United traditionally – or by folklore at least – is most vulnerable.

Perhaps more than ever Ferguson must rely on the depths of his squad at the season’s very outset.

Key fixtures before United’s squad returns to full fitness
8 August, Chelsea, Community Shield
16 August, Newcastle United, Premier League
22 August, Fulham, Premier League
28 August, West Ham United, Premier League
12 September, Everton, Premier League
14/15 September, Champions League
19 September, Liverpool, Premier League
26 September, Bolton Wanderers, Premier League
28/29, Champions League

Reds on defensive for Champions draw

Ed December 11, 2009 Tags: , Opinion No comments

In the end Manchester United was a comfortable winner on Tuesday night, topping Group B with points to spare. But in beating VfL Wolfsburg short of eight defenders it’s easy to forget the deficiencies that threatened to undermined United’s progress this season. When the competition resumes, United will need a full compliment of in-form defenders.

The draw for the knockout stages of the Champions League will take place at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland on Friday 18 December. And while Sir Alex Ferguson is seeking the kindest possible draw – Olympiakos, Stuttgart or Porto come to mind – the fitness of key defenders Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic is surely just as high on the Scot’s Christmas wish list.

The Champions League first knockout round first-leg ties is played over four nights in February, with the second legs scheduled for mid-March. In between United has a run of eminently winnable matches against Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Fulham, Hull City and Wigan Athletic before cup ties against Manchester City and Leeds United. Indeed, United won’t face another ‘top four’ team until Ferguson’s side visit Arsenal on 31 January.

But with long-term injuries to Ferdinand and fellow central defender Evans, Ferguson may want to call on the Gods of good fortune to ensure Vidic and Wes Brown stay healthy before the season enters heats up in February and beyond. Should either face further time on the sidelines over the Christmas programme and into the New Year better sides than Wolfsburg will surely take advantage.

Injuries are not the only defensive concern for Sir Alex though. Lest he forget the individual errors that have already cost United this season. Should Ferdinand return to fitness as 2009 draws to a close there is no guarantee that the former Leeds and West Ham United defender’s form will accompany it. Costly errors by the central defender against Manchester City and for England in Holland, among others, have served to highlight Ferdinand’s fragile form, as well as his fitness.

Both player and manager will hope that a new year brings better fortune.

Ferguson must also resolve lingering doubts not only over Vidic’s fitness but form and mental state too. While the Serbian defender is widely considered to have suffered a dip in form following United’s heavy Old Trafford loss to Liverpool last season, longer-term concerns surround the defender’s willingness to stay at the club.

“I am glad to have been part of this club for so many years and if I could be one of the bases on which a new team is built I would be very happy,” said the former Spartak Moscow defender recently.

“I have never said I want to go and play in another country. Other people have spoken or written about it and I am not happy with that. The fact is I am happy here.”

But Vidic is yet to sign the contract extension on the table at Old Trafford. It would increase the Serbian’s wages to more than £100,000 per week. While the Serbian is contracted to the club until 2012, rumours that Vidic is willing to leave the club for warmer climes – both Milan and Barcelona are interested in the defender – will continue until he signs. If he signs.

In the meantime Ferguson must hope that rest cures the ills of Evans, Ferdinand and the rest. Bonne chance at next Friday’s draw wouldn’t go amiss either.