With all the attention going to our midfield this summer, a position which has the potential to become a problem area for United next season has been somewhat overlooked.
Since losing stalwarts Gary Neville, John O’Shea and Wes Brown there is a clear discrepancy in United’s squad – at full-back. Apart from Patrice Evra and the Da Silva twins, there are no other natural full-backs at the club. Sir Alex has allowed promising youngster Ritchie De Laet to go on loan to newly promoted Norwich City which has left us short of numbers at right and left-back.
After the departures of Brown, Neville and O’Shea, United have signed one defender in Phil Jones while they did come close to the capture of French youngster Raphael Varane but to be pipped at the last moment by Real Madrid. The gaffer has been quoted this summer as saying that if he cannot get the players he wants, he will not be acquiring new players for the sake of it. This appears to be the case in his defensive conundrum.
It won’t be easy for Sir Alex to give a youth a chance as the reserve team and Youth Cup-winning side weren’t really based on a solid defensive foundation and the only to excel were attacking players including Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison and Ryan Tunicliffe. Oliver Gill had developed well and been tipped for a first-team chance this term but he’s chosen to go to University. There is also a case for Wes Brown’s younger brother Reece, however his form hasn’t been consistent enough to warrant a crack at the first team.
United fans will remember the defensive crisis that many claim cost us the title in 2010 which led to Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher playing as centre-halves during back-to-back losses against Fulham and Aston Villa. With Rafael and Fabio susceptible to the odd injury as they fly into challenges, it would be wise of the boss to bring in some cover.
Saying that, it appears he has other ideas. During pre-season, the manager has utilised Chris Smalling at right-back, Jonny Evans at left-back and Phil Jones has been tried all across the back-four. Smalling and Jones have looked pretty comfortable in these new positions whereas Evans seems out of his depth. The Northern Ireland international did play on the left on a couple of occasions last season but his inability to get up and down the flank to support attacking play, cross the ball into the box and beat a man meant the left-sided midfielder was often isolated. It seems he’s mainly deployed as cover because he is left-footed.
Smalling surprised many during his debut season last year and there were few less exciting views than that of the lanky-Londoner galloping down the pitch, starting counter-attacks and helping create scoring chances for the reds. He has shown his ability to play on the right and will, no doubt, do well there next season. Jones is seen as the new O’Shea as he is very much the utility man and he can fill in every defensive position, including the holding midfield role and, if pre-season is anything to go by, he will also have a brilliant first season at Old Trafford. This time last year, right-back was probably our strongest position with Neville, Rafael, Brown, O’Shea and Fabio having stints there during the season but with three of those five leaving, it will be interesting to see how we cope.
A lot of United fans believed we should’ve kept O’Shea with his versatility but, as we’ve found out on numerous occasions, Fergie knows best.
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