Attack wins you games but defense wins you titles. Such an assertion may be subject to endless debates, but Sir Alex Ferguson held steadfast to this belief, so much that you would easy be fooled he was Italian: well except for the name which is an easy giveaway.
From Jaap Stam to Gary Pallister, from Steve Bruce to Rio Ferdinand, it comes as no surprise that Fergie’s success hinged predominantly on the individual brilliance of his backline, coupled with the goals of course.
But of all the central defenders under Sir Alex Ferguson, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic formed one of the most solid defensive partnerships in the history of Manchester United. Having served as skippers while at their peaks at Old Trafford, the blossoming relationship between Rio and Vidic saw United miss completing the treble by a whisker when they won the 2008 UEFA Champions League and Premier League double.
Since their departure from Manchester United soon after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, the club has failed to find adequate replacements for the two, much like they still haven’t found a befitting replacement to adorn the revered No. 7 shirt since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure nearly seven years ago.
For a while Jonny Evans and Phil Jones looked like they were being groomed to be the long term replacements for Rio and Vidic, but that never came to be soon after Louis van Gaal’s appointment. The Dutchman considered Evans as surplus, subsequently selling him to West Brom in 2015 while Jones’s career has been ridiculed with injury, leaving many unanswered questions as to whether or not he will ever be fit enough to prove his worth.
Despite the bemoaned defensive crisis, here are two reasons why Manchester United’s defense is a work in progress.
Smalling has come of age
Chris Smalling left United supporters venting their spleens when he got sent off during the Manchester derby back in November 2014, but that is a far cry away from the defender he can become today. The England international has been one of Manchester United’s most consistent players, offering much needed leadership defensively and impetus going forward.
His partnership with Daley Blind has seen United concede fewer goals, but Blind has the technical intelligence that would suffice an attacking midfield role.
Luke Shaw’s return
Until his long layoff Luke Shaw had been on a good run of form, striking a balance between posing an attacking threat and falling back to his defensive duties. The 20-year old suffered a grizzly double leg fracture during the 2-1 Champions League loss to PSV Eindhoven in September last year.
After seven months on the treatment table, Shaw has returned to training with United physios in a bid to at least make an appearance before the end of the season. Getting minutes under his belt could prove intricate as it could be his ticket to France for the 2016 Euros.
With Shaw back to his glittering best, not to mention Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Guillermo Varela and Timothy Fosu-Mensah have been a revelation since making their senior debuts this season, all Manchester United need is a voice in the back four.
A vocal, fearless, figure that is willing to put his head where many wouldn’t put their foot: A man like Vidic.
Written by Brian Humphrey
Follow Brian on Twitter @brihum
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