The Phasing Out of United’s Old Rearguard
Four months into their first season without Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm for 26 years, Manchester United's rollercoaster shows no sign of stopping, with yesterday's result against Hull confirming that David Moyes' men slowly appear to be rediscovering their attacking rhythm and, far more importantly, lost none of the determination or will to win games from any adverse position.
December 27th, 2013
Despite yesterday’s costly lapses of concentration early in the match, defensively United are also beginning to show definite signs of improvement.
It’s no coincidence that United’s defensive shape has improved with a set back four, one in which the figures of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are no longer as prominent as they had been for the last seven seasons, throughout which they formed one of the best centre-back partnerships in the Premier League and, arguably, in Europe.
Injuries and age had begun to catch up with Vidic and Ferdinand over the last two campaigns, but while in previous seasons Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were always considered to be the replacements of how extended their run in the team might have been, in the first season under David Moyes the two veterans are being gradually phased out.
Both of them remain, of course, crucial elements of the team – on the pitch as much as in the dressing room – but their involvement has been fairly limited this season with Vidic playing 11 times in the Premier League, while Ferdinand has started a mere seven league matches.
Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling have started one and four games less than Vidic respectively, but both have impressed when picked, with Evans showing all the composure and experience of a veteran centre-back, despite being just 25, while Smalling’s three displays in the middle of the back four proved the 24-year-old is much more at ease at centre-back than when deployed as right-back – a position he’s occupied eight times in all competitions this season.
While Phil Jones has been impressive as defensive midfielder, the former Blackburn man has looked extremely accomplished when deployed at centre-back – United have kept two clean sheets over the five games Jones played in the middle of the back four – which gives David Moyes a selection dilemma, but one the United manager must be happy to have.
Furthermore, were United to finally invest in one or two top class midfielders, Jones could soon be deemed surplus to requirement in the engine room, thus making Moyes’ choice for his centre-back pairing even more difficult, particularly considering that, much like Vidic and Ferdinand, United’s younger defenders seem to complement each other brilliantly.