Ferdinand, Evans, Carrick: United's Defensive Options Assessed

With Vidic out, these are worrying times for United. Is Carrick good enough? Can Ferdinand still run? We look at the options available to Fergie over the coming months...
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The word ‘crisis’ is used all too often in football, yet Manchester United appear to be facing somewhat of a predicament as far as the centre of their defence is concerned and the crushing revelation that Nemanja Vidic is to be out for 8 weeks after a meniscus operation is news that Sir Alex could ill-afford.

How are United to fill the void?

The Reds started the season with Carrick deputising at centre-half alongside Vidic and in stating the obvious, he isn’t cut out to fill in for the 8-week hole left by the Serbian, especially with crucial games against Tottenham, Newcastle, Chelsea and Arsenal all coming up in the next 4 weeks alone. If there were less threatening opposition to be faced, United may scrape through, with Carrick’s reading of the game and composure being his redeeming features as a defender. Yet, you couldn’t imagine the likes of Adebayor, Demba Ba, Cisse or even Torres being apprehensive of facing United’s no. 16.

It’s not unfair to say that  Rio doesn’t just need an oil change, he needs taking to the MLS scrapyard

Even then, who else is there to instill confidence in United fans in what has been a shaky start to United’s season defensively? Carrick and Ferdinand lack the pace to deal with the counter attacks that have caused United so many problems already this season. Neither are natural ball-winners and having rarely played alongside each other, if at all, the solution does not lie in this combination.

The return of Jonny Evans may be mildly comforting. However, when all is said in done, it is still Jonny Evans. Having already escaped penalisation for two stonewall penalties against Galatasary and Liverpool respectively, the form that Evans showed alongside Ferdinand during periods of last season fails to account for his susceptibility to jump in to a tackle a little too hastily. Had it not been for Shelvey’s recklessness in his own tackle for Liverpool on Sunday, United could well be another centre-half down for the next few games. Alas, the jury is out on Evans and the next couple of months could well be make or break as far as Ferguson’s already bewildering patience with the Northern Irishman stands.

Even so, the partnership of Evans and Ferdinand is not one that is likely to keep many strikers awake the night before a game. As much as Ferdinand’s head may still be in the game, his body isn’t. A mere nudge in the back or slightly awkward landing leaves the ageing number five requiring the magic sponge. It’s incomprehensible to think that people are calling for him to be brought back into the England set-up after Terry’s noble departure, Ferdinand’s way past his best and looks rusty with it. It’s not unfair to say that  Rio doesn’t just need an oil change, he needs taking to the MLS scrapyard.

There doesn’t appear to be any solution for United fans other than to hold on to your hats

Then we come to Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. Both injured. Indeed, Smalling may be back within the next couple of weeks and before his injury with the national squad, was showing all the right signs of becoming a solid defender, at both right-back and centre-half. However, by the time it takes him to form a solid partnership with Ferdinand (providing he doesn’t get injured) or Evans may well be back in the fold.

Thus, the ‘c’ word may be used too often amongst the hyperbolic media but it’s hard to stake a claim for the contrary as far as United’s defence is concerned. Every club, United or otherwise, that has won the league has had a solid spine throughout the team, let alone a solid base. With this in mind, United’s challenge for the title encounters problems beginning with the chopping and changing of goalkeepers, a different matter entirely, before hitting yet another snag with the two players that sit in front of whichever keeper Fergie prefers on matchday. The triangle of goalkeeper and two centre-halves needs to be based on trust otherwise everything else will crumble. Perhaps Ferguson should just take a leaf out of Ian Holloway’s book of ‘How To Defend With No Defence’ and concentrate on the chapter which simply says ‘Score more goals than them’.

With Vidic missing, Ferdinand forever limping, Evans forever jumping in, Carrick out of position and the two wonderkids, Jones and Smalling, out of action for the foreseeable future, there doesn’t appear to be any solution for United fans other than to hold on to your hats, it could be a rough couple of months.

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