The capitulation by Manchester United on Sunday at the hands of Leicester City did not teach us anything new. It reaffirmed to us all that the current defenders at the club are not good enough. They are poor communicators, lack leadership and injury prone.
With so many new additions to the squad the team lack a unity which is to be expected. Way back in 1989, Sir Alex Ferguson had to rebuild his team and he bought Mike Phelan, Neil Webb, Danny Wallace, Paul Ince to name a few all at once. He has since gone on record saying he regretted bringing in so many new faces at once and vowed never to do that again, as it took so long to bed all those new faces in at once and led to more instability at first.
So United playing Rojo, Blackett, Di Maria, Falcao, Blind and Herrera at once, is it any wonder there is a lack of communication and stability in the team? You also have to take into consideration that many of these players have moved country recently, are living out of hotels as they are yet to find a house to buy, as is the situation with the manager too. Mix that with Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling who are looking like they may never live up to their star billing and throw a 20 year old into the plot and you have the chaos of Sunday`s performance.
Great credit goes to Leicester, but I want to focus on United`s frailties.
Jonny Evans has been at the club a long time now, playing many games at the highest level and learning his trade from Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, yet this season he has had the look of a startled rabbit in the headlights. He has had a mixed career disrupted by numerous injuries but when he has had a settled season, he has looked a decent player, one who could command a first team role for many years. This season though, he has been prone to regular mistakes. He does not look comfortable on the ball, giving away possession too easily and being pushed off the ball with ease.
Chris Smalling has never shown anyone why Ferguson was so desperate to sign him from Fulham ahead of Arsene Wenger a few years ago. In fact, Wenger is allegedly still an admirer of Smalling. He is prone to switching off in games as if he is miles away. For a tall lad, he is not dominant in the air, poor on the ground and I struggle to ever recall him having a decent game in a red shirt. Smalling started his career in the non leagues and maybe that is his level because I cannot understand why he gets selected for his club or his country. He tends to play at right back, but this appears to be his worst position, often playing forwards onside. One definitely for the chop.
Big money was spent on Phil Jones a couple of years ago with many at United calling him the new Duncan Edwards. High praise indeed coming from the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton. A tough tackling, combative and versatile player who mostly played centre half but could play in midfield or even at a push, full back. Of the players discussed, Jones is the one who may still have a career at Old Trafford. He has to stop flying into challenges as he usually ends up limping out of them and being sidelined for a month, which is no good to anyone. I prefer him at centre half rather than midfield, but he has a long way to go to prove he has what it takes. He also has a habit of giving away too many penalties. Yes he didn’t play at Leicester, injured again, but he has yet to fully establish himself at united.
Why United let Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra leave the club at the same time still baffles me. Yes they were all nearing the end of their careers, but if one had been retained, probably Vidic or even Ferdinand their experience would have been vital in these first few months of the season. They would have settled in the likes of Rojo and Luke Shaw, helped Evans and Smalling through games and kept the captains armband which for me is another debate in itself. I am not a fan of the striker having the armband. Yes Eric Cantona wore it in his time at United but he was a talisman, a player everyone looked up to and listened too at the club, could the same be said of Wayne Rooney?
United are crying out for a calming influence at the centre of defence, someone who can communicate with the rest of the back four and the goal keeper, who can steady the ship in times of trouble. This issue will not go away even if United go shopping in January for a quality defender like Matt Hummels. If United do sign somebody to fit the bill in January, they will take time to settle in to life in the team and in this country, presuming they buy from overseas. I cannot see United with a settled, water tight defence until next season.
So be prepared for more 3-2s, 4-4s,etc in this season. Opposition teams sense United are soft at the back so will attack more than they would have done previously. With the riches up front for United, the old song has never been truer “ we often score six but seldom score ten”, I just hope we don’t concede that many in games as this issue already threatens to undermine United`s challenge for a champions league place come May.