With the defence stuttering and De Gea under pressure, Manchester United need solidity at the back. My old teammate can provide it...
Having been unceremoniously dumped out of the Carling cup by Crystal Palace and humbled in the Champions League by Basle and Benfica, Manchester United are on the ropes. So what can they do to salvage a season that is quickly in decline?
The atmosphere around Old Trafford at the minute is an unfamiliar one. Already out of half the competitions they started in, Sir Alex is having to concentrate his efforts on a domestic double. Yes, I know theyʼre still in the Europa League but itʼs difficult to see him taking that seriously. If anything, I can only imagine him using the competition to give his senior players an extra day’s rest and playing his inexperienced Carling Cup side.
At a club where semi-finals and finals have become an expectation rather than a hope, United have struggled to overcome sides who ordinarily would’ve been easily brushed aside, especially at home, and defensively they have been unusually brittle. As talented and promising as they both clearly are, the inexperience of Jones and Smalling has played its part in their exit. Both players are still cutting their teeth at european level but the blame certainly doesnʼt just lie at their door.
Iʼd be more than confident to stake my house on the same defence conceding less goals last season and there is one huge factor in this: Edwin Van der Sar. Whether Van der Sar played well or not is immaterial, just his sheer presence would have been enough to have solidified a back four who have been dismantled too easily by teams far inferior to themselves. And itʼs his absence, or the absence that has lead to the erratic defensive displays.
Famously, Sir Alex has had his fingers burnt when buying goalkeepers and thatʼs why I was so surprised he put his faith in someone as inexperienced as David De Gea. Perhaps Sir Alex regretted missing out on the young Petr Cech and didnʼt want to be caught napping again.
For all the potential he possesses, the signing of De Gea still represented a massive gamble and I for one had my reservations. Unfortunately, those doubts I had have been realised with De Gea giving displays that have done nothing to inspire comparisons of a Schmeichelesque nature. Of course, Schmeichel is a unique and incomparable entity but any United keeperʼs performance will always be held up against his. Itʼs an inevitable part of being a goalkeeper at a post-Schmeichel Manchester United.
To his credit, Sir Alex has stubbornly stuck by De Gea, desperately trying to give him the opportunity to settle in at the Theatre of Dreams but as each game passes, he never looks anything more than uncertain. After his poor start to the season, my hope was for the United players to protect him until his confidence had grown and had gradually find his feet.
Although United began the season in tremendous fashion, De Gea looked a lame duck and Ferguson as admitted as much by intermittently replacing him with the Danish Anders Lindegaard so as to “rest” his young steed. This is where the solution lies. Now is the time to make the replacement more permanent and give Lindegaard an extended run in the side to give his team the stability it craves.
What Sir Alex canʼt afford is to keep Anders Lindegaard sat on the bench whilst others pick up the trophies.
At this point, I should add that Anders Lindegaard and I were teammates in Denmark when we were both playing for Odense BK. Anders had been number two there for longer than heʼd intended and my arrival at the club allowed him to move out on loan to second division side, Kolding, and then Aalesund in the Norwegian Tippeliga. His eventual return coincided with my transfer to Barnsley F.C. and the firing of the then number one keeper, Arek Onysko, for an domestic assault on his wife.
The plan now was for Anders to take over as number one and belatedly begin his career at the age of twenty-five. After a disappointing beginning to the 2009/10 season, he was replaced with ex-United keeper, Roy Carroll and the seeds of his departure were sown. Seeing this as a knife in the back, he decided a move was best for both parties and off he went back to Aalesund on a permanent deal. A successful year there, which included a Norwegian Cup victory, secured his deal to one of the worldʼs biggest clubs.
An unknown to even the most ardent english supporter, you might think the leap in the standard of football would be too great but not Anders. If there is something Anders has over De Gea, itʼs his belief in himself. Even back in Odense as a number two, his aim was always to be the best. As the Schmeichel comparisons kick in to gear, this is where the similarities start and end.
There was never any doubt in his mind he would become number one for Denmark and from what I saw, I couldnʼt disagree with him. There were those who mistook his confidence for arrogance but it was only because his belief in his own ability was so strong.
Along with his confidence, he is calm and assured, exactly what Unitedʼs defence crave. As a defender, you donʼt mind what decisions your keeper makes as long as he makes one. With De Gea, his indecision has been costly and his insecurity has spread through the back four like chicken pox at a kids party. Stability has to be instilled in the coming weeks to counter the disappointment of Wednesdayʼs defeat and Anders Lindegaard is the man to provide it.
Unitedʼs sole focus must now be on the Premier League title and with rivals City providing stiff opposition, maybe itʼs no bad thing the Champions League is out of this seasonʼs equation. The financial implications through lost revenues wonʼt hurt Unitedʼs coffers as it might with other clubs. They can afford to take the hit in the pocket from an early Champions League exit for one season. What Sir Alex canʼt afford is to keep Anders Lindegaard sat on the bench whilst others pick up the trophies.
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