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 Boxing Day’s result against Hull confirming that David Moyes’ men seem to have rediscovered the good old habit of snatching results from the jaws of defeat.
While the comeback was undoubtedly pleasing, United’s diabolical defending would have raised concerns with Moyes, particularly as Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling look to establish themselves as the first choice partnership at centre-back.
Up until yesterday, United’s defensive shape had improved with a set back four, one in which the figures of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are no longer as prominent as they have been for the last seven seasons, throughout which they formed one of the best centre-back partnership 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 this season, 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 display 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.
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