It has been more than evident from as early as Manchester United’s opening fixture of the 2012-13 Barclays Premier League season, that there is a serious problem in regards to the Red Devils' defensive set up this year.
Yes, injuries have had a huge part to play in the lacklustre performances that have so far seen the once great Old Trafford back-line ship nine goals in just six matches, but that does not excuse some of the performances that have been made by the defensive contingent thus far.
Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra are players that the vast majority of Premier League followers would label as members of the “United First XI”.
In all honesty, with Sir Alex’s ever-increasing rotation policy it’s practically impossible to tie down exactly who is worthy of that title. However, whether it’s true or not the two men have more than earned the right to be seen as such after lengthy careers under Fergie with England’s most successful club.
However, after these years of labour the time has come to take a step back from sentimentality and face up to the very apparent reality that neither man is able to cut the mustard on a regular basis anymore.
Certainly players of their quality will never completely lose that spark that once made them some of the greatest defenders in world football, but that past glory does not justify a place in the present day line-up.
Anyone who watched the Spurs game on Saturday could tell you that age was a massive factor in the conceding of all three goals. The pacey Tottenham side had nothing to worry about running at the near-geriatric United defence, who were simply unable to cope with the super-human speed that Gareth Bale and Jan Vertonghen exhibited all afternoon.
Bale’s goal especially baffled me as a spectator. In truth—barring the classy finish in the bottom left-hand corner—there wasn’t all that much skill about the Welshman’s efforts.
Simply put, Bale knocked the ball in front of himself and out-sprinted the helpless United defence, before finishing coolly. The same in part could be said of Vertonghen’s goal in regards to pace at least, although admittedly the Belgian’s build up play was supreme.
Admittedly the criticism of a lack of pace really does come to the forefront against Spurs, who seem to build their team around speed more than technical ability these days.
If this was an isolated incident, then perhaps there wouldn’t be much call for alarm. However, week after week, more issues seem to be raised by the dire troupe of players holding United “solid” at the back.
With players like Buttner sitting on the United bench, and the likes of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling ready to make a return from injury within the next month or so, it’s time for Sir Alex to completely re-invent his defensive shape.
The only man who has any sort of claim of holding onto his position is the ever-increasingly injury-prone Nemanja Vidic, who himself may come under fire from Jonny Evans.
A defensive unit that would see Phil Jones and Alexander Buttner on the right and left sides of the defence respectively, and Smalling and/or Vidic in the centre is the way forward for United.
Youth must take a precedent over age and experience. The past has to give way to the future if the club wants to stay at the top of the game.
Perhaps these concerns are nothing to worry about. Who knows, it might be that Sir Alex plans to implement these changes the very moment he gets the chance (although with the continued use of Evra ahead of Buttner that seems unlikely).
The harsh reality of the situation is that if United continue to play the way they are currently doing in defence, the title will be a distant dream for the Red Devils this season.
Changes have to be made. Soon.
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