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Manchester United's defense has proved leaky to say the least so far this season and some of it down to United's injury woes in defense—Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have been sidelined with long-term injuries—however, that isn't an excuse for United's recent poor performances in defense.
Rio Ferdinand, for one, has struggled to keep up with the pace of the League, and Patrice Evra has lost all sense of what a full-back should do.
Using the Spanish and English champions as comparisons: Were it Real Madrid or Manchester City, Marcelo or Clichy would no doubt be (and have been in the past) replaced by Fabio Coentrao or Aleksandar Kolarov—even Sergio Ramos was dropped for Madrid's key Champions league game against Manchester City. Why should it be any different at United? Why all the protectiveness?