4 Manchester United Players Who Must Step Up for Injured Red Devils

Guido Fargiorgio@WorldBGuidCorrespondent IDecember 5, 2012

4 Manchester United Players Who Must Step Up for Injured Red Devils

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    Manchester United are dealing with a bit of injury woes at the moment, and, especially with an important stretch of games on the horizon, they will need players to step up to their responsibility.

    The soccer gods are often cruel to teams and, usually, strike at the most inopportune times. It should be expected to encounter injuries during a long season, especially in a league like the Premier League that can be very physical and demanding.

    The Red Devils are no exception. Now, with an all-important derby clash with Manchester City coming up, they are tasked with patching up a few holes left in the squad due to injury.

    Let's not beat around the bush, though. With three points separating them for the top spot, this derby has a lot riding on it. In that same regard, it's hard to single out a few players and place all the responsibility on them. You win together and you lose together.

    Still, United is expecting certain players who have to fill in for injured squad members to be able to handle it. These are the players I feel must step up in the absence of their teammates.

1. Tom Cleverley

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    When you think about his competition for a spot in the Red Devils' lineup, you have to feel for Tom Cleverley a bit.

    With veterans like Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Scott Fletcher and Anderson higher in the pecking order, he had to bide his time. Then, United's signing of Shinji Kagawa figured to provide added challenge to Cleverley as he strides toward a first-team role.

    Now, United have been linked with moves for other attacking midfielders like Wesley Sneijder (according to the Guardian), and that could make it even harder for Cleverley to make a name for himself.

    He's still young and, no doubt, has all the skill to be a permanent fixture at Old Trafford for years to come, but he has to make a statement. He's been good so far, but he needs to be great if he wants to take some playing time away from that kind of quality.

    Well, it looks like he'll get his chance. With Anderson currently dealing with injury and Shinji Kagawa, who was injured a few weeks ago, still out, Cleverley has his opportunity. He just needs to step up and take it.

2. Phil Jones

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    It may be a bit unfair to call out a defender who, himself, is recently returning from injury, but Phil Jones needs to make the most of this opportunity.

    Much like Cleverley's got no room up front, Phil Jones, as it stands, won't be pushing out Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic. He's young, though, and still has time to do that.

    However, what he can do in the meantime is step up in the absence of Vidic.

    The Serbian defender was supposed to be fit in time for United's Champions League encounter with Cluj and, more importantly, the derby with City, but Sir Alex Ferguson revealed Vidic may need some extra time off (h/t ESPN).

    So now with Vidic out of these games, and possibly still being eased into a full schedule when he does return, Phil Jones can step up and show United the hardened defending they were looking for when they acquired him from Blackpool last season.

3. Ashley Young

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    Ashley Young's career at Manchester United started off well, but it has come down to form.

    Unfortunately, he hasn't quite yet lived up to the price United paid for his services. So far this season, he has zero goals and only two assists the nine games he's featured in.

    Sure, he's seen a big dip in playing time, and that partly isn't his fault. When Sir Alex Ferguson decided to change up United's tactics to a more traditional diamond midfield, this eliminated Young's spot on the wing. Though he can play as an attacking midfielder up front, Young is better suited on the wing.

    Again, like others, he faces stiff competition, but sometimes you have to just overcome. To his credit, though, Young is willing to do whatever it takes to get playing time, and that's a good start. With guys like Kagawa and Nani still out, he'll get a chance, and he'll have to impress.

4. Rio Ferdinand

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    Rio Ferdinand has to be the defensive leader in the wake of Nemanja Vidic's extended absence and, way more importantly, United's defensive problems.

    United is tops in the league and are set to reclaim the Premier League title. That is, unless the defense has something to say about that. The defense was bent, not broken, until their win in a thriller with Reading last weekend.

    The leaky defense prompted Sir Alex Ferguson to admit, via BBC Sport, that "it's a worry." Ferguson and his boys most definitely do not want a repeat of last October's performance.

    It must be noted that you can have a flawless game as a player and, if one guy makes a mistake, you will lose. Defense is a team game, after all. Still, Ferdinand is held to a higher standard.

    Sure, he's on the wrong side of 30 and starting to show the effects of that age. All the more reason, believe it or not, that he must be looked at as the man to step up.

    With the team in need of someone to stabilize the defense, Ferdinand must be the guy who calms the back line in the absence of his partner, and captain, Vidic.

    He's the longest-tenured defender and one of the best to pull on a United, or England, shirt. He has the experience young players like Phil Jones or Chris Smalling don't, and they will look to him for support because of it.