The Faithful welcomes guest writer Kim Willott to our website. Here is her thoughts on our dilemma we currently have at right-back
As you know the injury problems of our defence has risen over the past few weeks, with Jonny Evans now being added to a long list of United players out of action. With Gary Neville deciding it was time to frame the shirt and hang it above his bed last season, it was time for somebody else to step up to the plate. Since then we’ve had Rafael, Fabio, Smalling, Jones and on the odd occasion, Valencia filling in at right back. It’s a problem that’s been facing us for quite some time and needs to be resolved sooner rather than later.
Rafael for me has the ability to be a great right-back for us and has been the first team choice since Neville retired. But he tends to get himself into trouble with lunging tackles and hasn’t proved himself enough to both be strong, and know when to hold back. There is a positive to this kind of defending as it proves he’s not afraid to go into any challenge, and it shows his hunger and desire to play. However the negative of this problem has seen him be disciplined harshly on the pitch, receiving 2 red cards during his time at United so far. I can see Rafael as a future right-back for United because he has the ability and talent to grind down at players and win the ball. However if we don’t give him that chance to flourish and become the player we all know he could be we could end up damaging his confidence.
Like his brother, Fabio is an excellent full back. He does have one slight problem, as injuries have shown that one half of our Brazilian twins… is practically made of glass, which doesn’t make him first choice during the season. But one positive about him is he does enjoy wearing the United shirt and playing whenever he’s fit and that’s the kind of defender we need, never say die and will put in the effort required and learn from his mistakes. I wouldn’t say he’s as powerful in his challenges but he does have no fear in taking on more experienced players and has the strength and ability in the box to clear any unwanted danger.
As for Valencia, I believe most United fans like myself say he’s better placed as a winger, but he’s had to fill in at full back as he’s a strong built player. He’s been average at right back and not caused too many problems, but I’d rather a natural full back take the position on the team-sheet. He may not be our number one choice for the spot, but he’s brought his own flair to the position and it has been working. He’s not caused a lot of grief but he’s managed to hold his own despite it not being his natural position, however he is a right winger and we need him in that position as he creates more of a threat and has been one of our key players during this, shall we say crisis, in the season.
So, it’s down to the main contenders. Smalling vs Jones, which is what the situation was really wasn’t it? Let’s start with Jones shall we? The man is a weapon to his own right. When he stamps the ground in frustration you can feel it in Australia (I have my sources). He’s exceptional at full back and in centre midfield, especially when partnered with Carrick. He’s had his fair share of starts in defence for us, and with Evans and Vidic now out injured I’d much prefer if he was positioned at right-back as he’s a stronger force. I mean look at the lad, he’s only 19 and he’s got the physicality of a 29 year old and the body of a God. (Yes, I’m letting my personal feelings get in the way for the article, but don’t fib and say you’ve not got a man crush on him!). Due to his exceptional form in central midfield he has shown us that he’s a difficult player to come up against and has given Fergie the option to move him around the pitch as a different formation.
Now, I know Smalling is a recognised central defender, but with the majority of his appearances this season he’s secured himself the right back position and he’s become a fans favourite. He’s gained a lot of experience with United since joining in 2010 after being at Fulham since 2008. He’s a bright prospect with the attitude of a central defender but he also eases into the full back position with confidence and he makes challenges with power and common sense. With the recognised knee injury to Nemanja Vidic last year and being out until next season Smalling has had to join forces with Rio and has moulded himself into that position, and it’s working. But Smalling has a great chance to prove himself at full back and centreback, so if the situation arises again for a possible switch around we’ll have cover in both positions.
With himself and Jones being thought of as a replacement for Rio and Vidic in the near future, many of the fans are looking at the position of right-back and hoping Sir Alex will make permanent changes. But I say why change things? We must be doing something right, after all we’ve only conceded 20 goals during in the Premier League this season so far, and that’s something to ponder about. It’s a difficult decision for Sir Alex to make and we can only go off what’s been seen at the training ground as it’s not always about stats, it’s about the performance of the player at the time.
So, with Vidic out of action until the end of the season, I’d go with the player who’s made the best impression to fill in at centreback, and that would be Smalling. Meaning Jones, who is 100% capable of being used as a right back if he’s not needed in midfield, after all the latest news of the Ginger Prince coming out of retirement has given us a big boost. A boost that could possibly extend our strength in the squad towards the end of the season, and giving us a chance to catch up to Manchester City.
I think Kim has made some very good points here. Kim has indentifed that at right back we definately have ‘strength in depth’. However I summise from the information that we should be very worried, and not positive as the article suggests.
My theory is based on the following: Injuries, loss of form and other reasons have meant that Vidic, Ferdinand and Evans have been absent. Jones has been used in midfield, Carrick has been centre back, Valencia has been right back. This rings alarm bells for me. With the departures of O Shea and Brown we are actually short of future talent with no experienced back-up players. If you partner this issue with no real sufficent cover for an ever-ageing, increasingly inconsistent Patrice Evra we have further defensive issues. Zak Fryers is emerging as a quality replacement, but is a few years off being adequate cover for Evra.
I think this is a problem systemic in the United squad. In midfield we have recalled Scholes out of retirement. Whilst I believe that a 50 year old Paul Scholes would still be better than most midfielders currently playing in the Premier League I fear that continued speculation that our future stars are dpearting, we are going to be frightenly short of a midfield to support our plethora of strikers.
In summary, for a team that is supposedly in decline we are sitting pretty in the league. But lets not think that everything is rosey!
Good article. Not finished reading it just yet, but what I’ll say is that I have been overly impressed with Smalling and Jones at right back, especially the former as I never thought he had the ability to perform as consistently as he has shown. Personally, I would like to see Rafael back, rightfully it’s his position and he made it his own last season, however, down to injuries he hasn’t been able to cement his first team status. What I don’t want to see though, is Valencia being shifted to the back as it really limits our attacking options. It’s not to say Valencia is poor as a right back, far from it, but we with the form he has been in over the past month – it’s pretty stupid playing him at the back.