Manchester United: Why have United been so poor defensively?
It's been leaky at the back in recent times for Manchester United. Tottenham outpaced them and even FC Cluj found a way through. So what's going wrong?
Let's look at a few possible reasons.
The first and most obvious reason is the never ending list of injuries. Both Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have yet to feature this season. Johnny Evans has only recently returned to full fitness and Nemanja Vidic is out, long-term, again.
This lack of stability cannot be helpful for a team that leaves itself vulnerable to counter-attacks. But the team shouldn't go blaming their defensive woes on injuries when they've got the squad depth to cope with it - unlike most other teams around the world.
However, once a centre-back pairing stays fit and maintains good form, the team should benefit as a whole - with midfielders pushing forward in confidence and players in attack focusing their energies on creativity and penetration, rather than tracking back. There is also the fact that the goalkeepers are being rotated as well, this may also be affecting the cohesion at the back.
But Manchester United defenders should be good enough and the injuries shouldn't be used as an excuse. The goalkeepers do rotate, but both keepers are good enough to instill confidence in whoever plays ahead of them.
The big problem is the lack of speed. Everyone points their finger at the aging Ferdinand or Patrice Evra. Sure, they were caught out by the speed of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon. But should the blame rest on these two alone?
I say no. Ferdinand is an experienced defender who, over time, would have developed his skill set to adjust to a decline in speed and agility. Patrice Evra has been found out many times in his career and his strengths lie in the support he gives when the team goes forward, rather than back. Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Alexander Buttner can all remedy this problem of speed at the back.
The area of the park where speed is really lacking is the midfield. Paul Scholes is in top form. His passing has been excellent and, believe it or not, he's made some good strong tackles. But in combination with Michael Carrick, Manchester United must have the slowest midfield duo protecting their defence.
As much as the two contribute in the transition between and attack and defence it's their ability to cope with speedy counter-attacks which lets them and the team down. They were clearly exposed against Tottenham. Bale had a lot of time to run before exposing Rio and against other teams that rely on fast counter attacks, Manchester United need a different midfield combination.
When it comes to teams who park the bus and patience is required, then I see no better combination than Scholes and Carrick to unlock stubborn defences. But apart from those types of matches, I'd rather see a combination of Scholes or Carrick with Tom Cleverley, Anderson or Darren Fletcher. Nick Powell has shown a sliver of magic, but is still not ready, and so has Ryan Tunnicliffe, who would fit in nicely in front of the back four.
It's been written about many times, but with the acquisition of Shinji Kagawa and the adoption of the 4-2-3-1 system, Manchester United really need a specialist defensive midfielder. Someone with pace, strength and a no-nonsense attitude. With the departure of Dimitar Berbatov, we saw Manchester United preferring speed over genuine skill. But further back is where Manchester United need an injection of pace and if the goals keep leaking in the future, Sir Alex Ferguson may dip into the market this coming January.
Despite the troubles at the back, there seems to be no obstacles further up the pitch. WIth the mesmerising style of play that came about when the trio of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Kagawa played together, against Spurs and linked up so well. This nullified the threat of pace with Bale and Lennon playing from deeper. Had Dempsey not scored, we may have seen a different outcome. So, if the defence does continue to struggle, Manchester United at least has one of the best attacks in the league. It would also help if the team were more switched on from the start too.
Calling all United fans: What's going wrong for United at the back? Does the team need more time to settle into a new formation? Is the midfield too slow? Should Sir Alex Ferguson bring in a defensive midfielder in January? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.
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