Despite our most recent success, most notably over the last five seasons, there have always been issues that needed addressing. This is nothing new for any team because there’s always something that can be fixed. But during the last few years, injuries have plagued our defense, lack of creativity has plagued our MF, and true depth has plagued both those areas. With this new squad, we are chock full of options, especially in defense. This hasn’t always been the case.
Fans will never forget the injured plagued season of three years ago, when it seemed like we never had a fully fit back four. Fans will remember SAF plugging the damn with makeshift defenders (Michael Carrick) just trying to stay afloat. With four titles in five years, SAF made it work. All of a sudden, we have a strong back line with options. When Rio or Vidic would pick up a knock three years ago, we cringed at who would be put back there. So far this season, Rio and Vidic haven’t really played and we’ve still looked excellent. This begs the question – Is our back four really that good? The answer isn’t as clear-cut as what the beginning of this campaign would have you think.
The long and short of it is that our back four, whoever we decide to field, is really that good. However, we can’t get carried away with the hoopla just yet. After the Bolton game, the biggest worry was whether or not Rooney would get a third successive hat trick. After the Chelsea game, the biggest worry isn’t just that we had a crap game in MF – it’s that Chelsea had many scoring opportunities. These scoring opportunities weren’t given in the first four games of the season. With that, we have to keep in mind that Chelsea was a first true test of this young PL season. It could’ve easily been a game that we lost. A big focal point? The defense.
Let’s take a closer look at who we have in the back and go from there. Since part of this article is about the depth in the back, let’s just leave Rio and Vidic out of the equation for now. The ten million pound signing of Chris Smalling from Fulham last year had some scratching their heads. Not now. The lad is a damn fine back and has shown us that. The shaky Jonny Evans of last year seems to be in hiding as he was my MOTM in the Chelsea game. There was mixed reaction when we signed Phil Jones. Some people hadn’t really seen him play at Blackburn and some just worried about his age. So far, Phil Jones is probably our player of the year. Evra didn’t have a good season last year, but has stepped up for us in these first few games. He does get caught out still, so he’ll need to keep addressing that. We also have the Da Silva twins. Quick fan favorites last season, the twins have gone back to being spectators as of recently, which is saying something about the quality of our defense. Rafa has a shoulder issue that’s kept him out, but even if they were both fit – and more level-headed – I still think that Jones, Smalling, and Evra would be the go-to players. These are the pro’s.
Here are the con’s. Our team has lacked youth in the last few years. We went from being one of the oldest teams to now being one of the youngest teams. With that comes the growing pains, as evidenced by the Chelsea match. Keep in mind that the group of defenders we have at our disposal haven’t played together all that much. Playing five PL games pales in comparison to having several seasons under your belt. While we can pat them on the back for the recent play, their youth and general inexperience will get exposed. Evra is currently the staple in the back. He didn’t play with Evans all that much, and before this season didn’t play with Smalling much or Jones at all. Evans has been a rock, but only played with Smalling during a select few games last year. Jones is new. He’s amazing, but he’s new. It takes time to gel together, to understand exactly how to work as a four and not a one, to know what a player will do before he does it. What I’m basically saying is that there is a learning curve. And while we’ve been ahead of this curve all season, there will be times where the vitality and youthfulness of our back four will become a liability rather than an asset. I don’t expect it to happen much, but it will happen. We’ve needed young players and now we’ve got them. And the good and bad that comes along with it.
United fans are quite fickle, but have hopefully adopted a new philosophy this season. We’ve been begging for a youthful side and we’ve got one. United fans must understand the trials and tribulations that go along with this desire. Almost all fans that I’ve encountered have been steadfast and true with our youngsters, especially backing David de Gea when pundits write him off. He’s had a few shaky moments, but he’s also produced some wonderful ones, too. But we’ve been there to support him. Hell, look at everyone’s Twitter avatar. This support needs to carry through to our other youngsters in the back. We haven’t had to give it much thought, but we have to now. To the fans who are already supporting them – good for you. It’s up to us to defend our defenders, through it all.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasTheDevil
In addition to the defense, the reason Chelsea had many goal scoring opportunities was the exclusion of Valencia and Park. They are basically fullbacks, both having great tackling abilities and rarely find themselves out of position when in defense. Of course you lose the attacking potency along with flare and some speed. But when playing a dangerous side such as Chelsea, Sir Alex may go with those two again as he frequently did last season.
I’ve been impressed with the performance of the lads in the back four – who have played extremely well indidually if at times looking a bit ragged collectively. They certainly need to be on top form as from a defensive point of view the rest of the side is offering very little protection. If there is one area of disappointment I have about the season so far it is the patchy execution of pressing from the front. At times we hustle extremely well and look to win the ball high up the pitch but in the last couple of games – perhaps due to fatigue – the pressing and defensive approach in the midfield and attach has been average at best and the result has been conceding more shots at goal than any other side in the league. Yet another reason to support Rob’s campaign for trying Jones out in midfield.