Monday, 1 October 2012

Fergie's defensive dilemmas

Sir Alex Ferguson may have described the four minutes of injury time added to Manchester United's 3-2 defeat by Tottenham as an insult to the game, but there's no denying that it would take even stronger words to sum up his side's defending against the North Londoners on Saturday.

Am I seeing this right?: Sir Alex won't have been impressed by his team's defending this season 

To put it simply, they fell well short of their usual standards. Jan Vertonghen and Gareth Bale were both allowed to roam forward unopposed in the first half to put Spurs into a deserved 2-0 lead and within moments of Nani halving the deficit in the 51st minute, Bale found himself in acres of space inside the box to force a decent save out of Anders Lindegaard and leave Clint Dempsey with a tap-in.

The Red Devils have now conceded nine goals in their opening six Premier League matches and kept just one clean sheet amid that period of games. Club captain Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are all on the treatment table and the doubts are growing about the capabilities of Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra to perform consistently at the highest level. The fact that the incredibly inexperienced Scott Wootton - a first team debutant in the 2-1 victory against Newcastle in the Capital One Cup last Wednesday - was the only defender on the bench on Saturday shows that the backline is genuinely stretched to its limits.

Goals conceded in the first six games of the last six seasons
2011/12 - 5 goals
2010/11 - 9 goals
2009/10 - 6 goals
2008/09 - 4 goals
2007/08 - 2 goals
2006/07 - 4 goals

Another youngster, Michael Keane, has been drafted into the squad alongside Wootton for the trip to face CFR Cluj on Tuesday night and as much as the all-round 'Champions League' experience will be beneficial to the pair of them, Sir Alex will be extremely hopeful that he isn't forced to throw them straight into the action. Anymore injuries and that could well be the case.

Their next four league games see them travel to Newcastle and Chelsea and play host to Stoke and Arsenal. The equivalent fixtures from last season yielded seven points, just one clean sheet and accounted for eight of the thirty-three goals they conceded in the Premier League. The manager will be anticipating a better return this time round as the Reds aim to seal up the cracks in the back four and get their title challenge back on track. 

The damage is by no means irreparable at this early stage of the season and Sir Alex can elude to many examples where shaky starts have been overcome and led to success. The same goals against record at this stage of the 2010/11 campaign saw United accumulate the same amount of points as they have thus far, twelve, and when you consider that they went on to win the title that season by nine points, it's far from doom and gloom.

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