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Devils Done? Can Man Utd Win With This Defense?

Gary Neville thinking to himself about how crap and old he is

Gary Neville thinking to himself about how crap and old he is

This time last year Manchester United were starting to put together one of the finest stretches of defensive football ever scene in the English Premier League. But one year later, with a similar defensive cast, they seem exposed, shaky and generally lacking around their own goal.

Much was made in the attacking power that left Old Trafford this summer, but not enough was said about the lack of real talent brought in behind the ball. While there are several quality players who slot into Utd’s back four, they are becoming outnumbered by guys who no longer are able to carry the badge or may never be able.

This may be jumping the gun early in the year, but how much gelling should a back four, picked from ostensibly the same players, need to do when they have all been at the club for at least the last two seasons.

Much has been made about this side’s lack of a truely great No. 1, in this forum and many others. But the problems in front of the Failin’ Foster, Edwin Van Der Old and the poor Pole must be addressed also.

Here is who we are talking about.

Rio Ferdinand: As a young man Rio was pegged to be the mold from which the new generation of defenders were to be cast from. A 1970 Brazilian-style center back who can defend, but also play his way out of trouble and ignite attacks from the most defensive of positions. However, the $40 million man is getting on, getting old before our eyes. Niggling injury after niggling injury have taken their tole from a once elite-level player. As 2009 comes to an end Rio is lacking fitness and no longer seems freekily-ESP-twinned with Nemenja Vidic. If he is ever to be the real Rio again, and not turn into Ledley King.

Nemenja Vidic: Possibly the best center half in the world, any discussion of best value for money signing in the last 10 years should really start with Sir Alex Ferguson’s $6 million for the big Serb. (It should also include the next guy on my list who cost $500,000 less five days later!) The only problem with Vidic is a niggling doubt that he has Ronaldo/Adebayor-fever. There were too many reports of Vidic looking at that greener, other-side-grass over the summer. Does he see his long-term future in England?

Partice Evra: Ashley Cole has looked much more like the player he thinks he is this season, this has put Utd’s Frenchman into the No.2 spot in left-sided fullbacks in the Premier League. He really compliments the left side of Old Trafford in attack, but he will never be a great defensive fullback.

The problem for Man Utd really starts here. While the three above have stuttered, at times, they can be great. I have fit the rest of the defensive squad into two groups — the young and the crap.

Let us start with The Crap:

Wes Brown: When it looked like stalwart-second choice Brown was set to leave Manchester, United bent and offered the former England international an improved contract. After protracted negotiations a deal was struck and Wes stayed. It is unfortunate that those negotiations seem to have sucked all the talent of him and all that’s left is something Brown. Another one with a chain of injuries Wes is about to be on the wrong side 30, too.

Gary Neville: Was a quality, international standard fullback. He is now old and crap.

John O’Shea: O’Shea covers a myriad of positions for Utd. His versatility comes in that he is no good in any number of positions! Don’t get me completely wrong, I think O’Shea is a fine player. A 45 games-a-season guy at Villa, Everton, Bolton etc. But he is not exceptional, he’s a journeyman. Man Utd shouldn’t have journeyman filling in for them 25 times a year, they should be developing new talent or swooping in and buying great players.

The Young

Jonny Evans: Looked a great prospect at Sunderland two years ago on loan and in spells in 2008/09 he looked like the heir apparent. But is he great or just a great backup? Whichever, Evans is not going to get a regular start at Old Trafford and has never played 20 games in a season, either at Utd or Sunderland. A young centerhalf needs to become established and play every week to blossom. I can’t see that happening until 2012 at the earliest — considering how much Rio is making!

Rafael/Fabio: Have you ever seen both of them in the same room at the same time? Is there two of them? If there is: Rafael obviously has great talent. He may be a combination of Paul Scholes, Glenn Johnson and Ronaldo. While he does look Ronaldo like bombing down the wing, unfortunately he has Scholes’ (utter lack) of tackling ability and Glenn Johnson’s defensive instincts. He has talent, but is at least a year away from being a Utd regular. Fabio (2 total starts for Utd) is two years away if ever.

The long and the short of it, or the young and the crap of it, is that the Red Devils are at least one world-class player away from a mounting a Premiership or Champions League challenge this year. This may be premature in a young season, but the unity in Utd’s defense that was there last year has gone. The old players are a year further past it, but the guys coming through are simply not there yet, and I just don’t see the leadership of Methuselah Van Der Saar changing anything on his return.

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  1. Kevin Breslin

    December 17, 2010 at 5:02 am

    If they had even two of these defenders against Fulham, they could’ve challenged much harder for the league. Saying that only one point short of Chelsea, despite playing Carrick at Centreback for four games.

  2. NewtonHeath

    September 25, 2009 at 8:30 am

    I’ve said before Van Der Sar is the most underrated part of their defense. Rio and Vidic get all the talk. While VDS got some mention during his clean sheet run, he’s been instrumental in their winning the league the past 3 seasons.

    I said to my buddies at the beginning of the season that this is Chelsea’s year to take back the title and they should be favorites due to them not losing any of their quality squad while United lost 2 attacking options and then you saw VDS go down as well. It will still obviously be close but I just think Chelsea will grind it out like United did last year, unfortunately.

    Attacking flair is nice and dandy but defense is just as important in a grueling title run.


  3. Cam

    September 23, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    That’s probably a good question! If you could choose Uniteds defence, all current players, who would it be?

    Mine would have to be Terry, Vidic, Alves and Evra with Pique and A.Cole on the bench…

    • MO7

      September 23, 2009 at 10:01 pm

      Terry? You’re having a laugh! And where is Maicon? Superior to Alves in every single way.

  4. JLay

    September 23, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    What’s that you say? United’s backup defenders are good enough to start for most teams in the Premiership but not good enough to start regularly for United? Well, I suppose that works out – they are backups, after all.

    I also find it interesting that while four of United’s five starting defenders are arguably among the top-5 or 10 players at their positions in the world, after 6 games you’ve come to the conclusion that their defense will do poorly this year. United have a +9 goal differential, started the season without Ferdinand and Van Der Sar, and they’ve already beaten Arsenal, Tottenham and City. Please explain.

    The only other team in the WORLD with similar defensive quality / depth is Chelsea.

    As manubhoy pointed out, you’re also dead-wrong about Fabio. He’s better than his brother but sees less time because he plays on the left and Evra is seldom hurt. Someday soon, he and his brother will be storming down the wings as part of United’s starting 11.

    Seriously, if you could have any team’s defensive roster – any team in the world… who would you pick? If you know anything about football, you’d pick United’s.

  5. mick

    September 23, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    They have proved it for the last 3 years judging them 6 games in is crazy.
    P.S if you play fantasy premier league join this league starting in gameweek 7
    10 spots left code is 625832-364543 its a head to head format.

  6. dave

    September 23, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Rio has 1 bad game in 2 season and hes trashed for it bearing in mind
    hes been injured all season and wasn’t even expected to be fit for sundays game.. United have strongest defense in league no doubt J. evans looks
    a brilliant player

    • Adam

      September 23, 2009 at 9:47 am

      Definitely not the strongest defense in the league.

  7. Gaz

    September 23, 2009 at 8:31 am

    United definitely don’t look as strong as last year (especially in defense).

    That said, I think it’ll come around for them in the end. For one, you have to give Rio a few games before you write him off.

  8. Tyson

    September 23, 2009 at 8:12 am

    I think it is ridiculous to ask questions about the United defense 6 games into the season.

    For one Rio Ferdinand only played 2 games and was nursing a thigh injury when he did play those two games. He’s made mistakes during those games. In fact he’s made fatal mistakes very often this season but that doesn’t mean his defending career is over he’s still one of the best at what he does.

    Vidic and Evra on the other hand.. well not much to say there they are two of the best in the world in their respect positions.

    The fourth of the United trio is a man that has been unable to play for nearly a year in the United squad. Wes Brown is a good player and can break down play and see things coming. Problem is with his injury you have to gently let him back into the game. It also allows us to keep O Shea busy who is generally a second choice but can play a variety of positions if we need him to.

    Rio needs to get his crap together as hes been having some of the worse matches since coming to United these last few months but with Vidic and Evra and with Wes Brown probably playing again properly by November-December Uniteds defense is one of the best in the world.

  9. Jonothan McCash

    September 23, 2009 at 4:34 am

    Extra time used to be of benefit when Utd didn’t hemorrhage so many goals, now after the Guardians research things may turn around.

    Research done by the Guardian on all of United’s league matches at Old Trafford since the start of the 2006-07 season has turned up some startling stats.
    According to them ….” on average, there has been over a minute extra added by referees when United do not have the lead after 90 minutes, compared to when they are in front. In 48 games when United were ahead, the average amount of stoppage time was 191.35 seconds. In 12 matches when United were drawing or losing there was an average of 257.17sec.”

    You can watch the absurdity here: -vs-man-city/
    Maybe the extra time was added on because of all the goal celebrations, but i didn’t think they were longer than the usual?

    • Bishopville Red

      September 23, 2009 at 5:19 pm

      Um, maybe more added time was played because if a team goes up at Old Trafford they tend to waste more time? When you’re behind you’d only waste time if you’re trying to keep the score down. United rarely need to waste time when they’re winning.

      One of the dumberst “studies” ever.

  10. Jorge Curioso

    September 23, 2009 at 1:53 am

    Given that Vidic got turned like a top by both Torres and Eto’o last year, I don’t know that he can be held up as the best central defender in the world.

  11. Arsenal14

    September 23, 2009 at 1:09 am

    Yes United can win with this defense! they can win 5th place! United for 5th! United for 5th!

  12. ish

    September 23, 2009 at 12:42 am

    actually the united defense shipped the same amount of goals as chelsea’s defense last season. That was with carvalho and terry maybe playing 5 games together and alex and ivanovic filling in for the other 40+. United’s first team defense is probably up there with the best in the world but their rotation and second string lag behind.
    United still need a proper rightback, one who can help support a winger. If united play valencia up there then a more defensive player might do.

    Also a.cole is definitely the best leftback in england currently. Some people have problems being objective. Just like vidic is the best defender and johnson is probably the best rightback(attacking wise anyway).

  13. manubhoy

    September 23, 2009 at 12:17 am

    This is a bunch of garbage, United’s defence has been perfectly constructed by Ferguson in my opinion, with a great mix of world class talent (Rio, Vidic, Evra), dependable veterans (O’Shea, Brown) and young potentially world-class talent (Evans, Fabio, Rafael).

    Your opinions on Wes Brown and Fabio annoy me the most. Wes Brown hasn’t lost any talent, he just hasn’t been fit! It’s not a coincidence that two seasons ago, when he avoided the injury bug, United had their best defensive season of Premier League era and won the double. Any other big 4 club would gladly take him as their 3rd choice center back, which is all he’s expected to be at United these days.

    As for Fabio, every single scouting report on the Da Silva twins has suggested that Fabio is the more talented fo the two. This kid captained the Brazil Under 18’s and was scoring goals for fun in the United reserves last season. He also put in a highly promising shift at right back (he’s a natural left back) in the season opener at Birmingham which seemed to confirm the sentiment that he’s better than Rafael. To question whether he will ever make it shows a distinct lack of research on your part, which in turn makes me wonder if you know what your talking about.

    Let’s not forget that these defensive players at United have conceded less goals than any other team in each of the last two Premier League seasons. I base my opinion of the United defence on that fact, not a Derby game with a half-fit Rio Ferdinand and a backup goalkeeper who has actually done Fergie a favor and proven he’s not going to be the successor to Van Der Sar.

  14. Cam

    September 22, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    I think we need to give Rio a bit more time before we start saying how badly he has done! One game against a rival team and people are calling for his head…
    I believe there is depth coming through and that we haven’t seen enough of Fabio and Rafael…who knows, they could be the new Nevilles of our team?!?!
    In my opinion, United need a new goal keeper who is a) young b) awesome between the sticks and c) will give his all for the devils. I am seeing Foster and he seems to be concentrating on one thing, the World Cup! I would like to see Iker Casillas come to United! If not him then maybe Mark Schwarzer, he rocks!

  15. edgar

    September 22, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    Rooney: QUALITY.

  16. edgar

    September 22, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    I kind of agree with some of what you have written.

    Rio Ferdinand: Can be great at times; but his injuries have plagued this team the last 9 months.

    Nemanja Vidic: I agree. Probably the best center half in the world at the moment. He might be looking for the closest exit. I don’t know.

    Patrice Evra: I think he is number one or two best left back in the world. The other being Gael Clichy. I think C*** Cole is behind those two. (Just my opinion.)

    Wes Brown: I just think he is having a bad spell right now. He can be quality at times. His form was one of the reasons that we won Champions League title.

    Gary Neville: His time is up.

    John O’shea: He plays anywhere on the field. I don’t know where his preferred position is. He is quality. One word: Versatility.

    Johnny Evans: Agreed.

    Darren Fletcher: Underrated. Enough said. I’ve been saying this for two years.

    Michael Carrick: Rubbish.

    Nani: Rubbish.

    Anderson: Rubbish. Overrated.

    Giggs: Quality. Wish he could just keep going.

    Berbatov: I still don’t know. He was quality at Spurs.

    Hargreaves: Injury Struck. Who knows.

    Rafael/Fabio: Up and Coming.

    Van der Saar: Quality.

    Foster: Rubbish. Overrated.

    Kuszchak: MIA. Where is he? Someone put out an amber alert!

    Scholes: Scares me every time he goes in for a tackle. Enough said.

  17. Fletcher

    September 22, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    Exhibit A as to why this article has truth: Burnley 1-0 United. Simple as that. And I’m sorry, I don’t remember anyone saying the same thing about United’s defense last season. Vidic and Ferdinand had that entire league on lock down. Did you see Rio on Saturday? That looked pretty rough. Never happened last season. And they are already relying too much on Giggs, Scholes, and Neville. Good players, yes. But they are not going to last with United’s fixture list. Are they going to be bottom of the table? No. But they won’t be at the very top either!

  18. Alan

    September 22, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    I couldn’t disagree more! I’m a United fan and I think Mr Gellately makes a good point. From goalie, through the back 4 we are not near we were even one year ago!
    EVDS is past it, foster is not top of the table material!
    Rio has slowed with injury and Neville, Brown and Oshea just are not of a standard to keep strong for 60 games!
    Add to that, we have more focus on the defense now the Ronaldo fear factor has gone. His prescense on the field drew a lot of teams to cover more than usual.
    Man U needed a Sergio Ramos, Lahm or similar to fill the void on the right!

  19. Bishopville Red

    September 22, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    Gee, it was only about a year ago that people were saying the exact same thing about United; giving up 3 goals to Hull, 2 to Zenit, Liverpool and Arsenal, lots of near misses and questions raised wondering if United could score enough goals to cover up defensive frailties and pull it off again.

    Then, suddenly, once the same four got a pretty stable run, nobody could score against Manchester United.

    You also seem it ignore the fact that the best goalkeeper in the world with the ball at his feet has not played for United yet this year. The number of times a back pass solved problems and allowed United to work their way out of trouble and start attacks last year (vs. causing problems like on Barry’s goal this year) can’t be underestimated. But you managed to do it.

    So in the spirit of your labels, when it comes to this article only one rating will do: CRAP.

  20. Curtis

    September 22, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    I have never read a worse article written on this website. An article composed of horrible conclusions and a clear anti-Untied sentiment is capped off by this supposed to be a sentence: “If he is ever to be the real Rio again, and not turn into Ledley King.”


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