United have been in ferocious attacking form at the beginning of this season, scoring 24 goals in 7 games, but lest us forget that we are missing the biggest character and captain of our squad. Nemanja Vidic has been out since the opening game of the season where he picked up a calf strain and SAF has tipped Nemanja to return to duty after the international break, a well timed return considering an away day at Anfield is the first match back. It was, and still remains, a United philosophy to “attack, attack, attack” but over the past few seasons United have built up a reputation for being an indomitable defensive fortress that gave the opposition very little. Check back to the 2008/9 season in which we broke the record for the longest time without conceding (a record which stood from the 1970s) going 1,311 minutes which equivalates to 14.5 games. Fast forward to the current United line-up and we see such promising youngsters (Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Rafael, Fabio and Jonny Evans) struggling without a leader: step up Nemanja.
For all the positives that we have seen from Jones and co, be it the galloping and exciting forward runs or the sublimely timed challenges, we have seen them struggle with both organisation and decision making. You can’t possibly take out Edwin Van Der Sar, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand from a defence and expect them to provide the same sort of stability that you once had but United have been treading on dangerous waters in recent matches. Given, I am not sure if I would even want Rio Ferdinand to regain a starting berth because he is a shadow of his former self, and I think injuries have unfortunately forced the curtains to begin to close on his time as a regular United starter. If it wasn’t for the lack of finishing shown by Norwich in the flattering 2-0 victory at the weekend, then United would have surely drawn the game at best. Time and time again, our defenders found themselves isolated against 2 Norwich attackers and the defence were struggling to hold shape. It was not as if a bad individual performance led to any of Norwich’s chances: everybody was at fault at different points and that is the main concern.
It is obvious for everyone to see that United are missing a leader at the back. Patrice Evra, for all his character, is not capable of leading a defence. David De Gea cannot possibly be expected to control his players yet but I am confident that in 12 months or less, he will have the dominant presence that every goalkeeper needs to succeed. Jones, Smalling, Rafael, Evans and Fabio are all too young to dictate and that is exactly why Nemanja needs to return post haste. Few defenders strike fear into the opposition as much as our Serbian wall does. Nemanja’s stock has risen exponentially since he came from Belgrade and he is now considered one of the best defensive players on the planet, and rightly so. He has the ability to bark at his players and get them to do what needs to be done, whilst at the same time not letting his game get distracted by it. If United are to win the title this year, then we need Nemanja to make a swift and full return to the starting line-up because as the season progresses and the Champions League comes into fruition, United will be wanting to see games out without leaking goals. Clean sheets have won us titles over the past few years and why break a winning formula? Sure, exciting football brings an exuberance that United have lacked but we can’t let it distract us from what has been our greatest asset over recent years.
For me, a defensive partnership of Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling, with Phil Jones playing central defensive midfield just in front of them, is the ideal defensive setup. Sure, it is not going to happen any time soon but that is what I am hoping will happen at United in the next few years. Jones’ forward runs don’t get utilised enough as a central defender and whilst he is an impressive centre back with ferocious tackling and pace to burn, we aren’t exaggerating his greatest assets enough. He will no doubt turn into an England captain because few young talents over the years have ever brought such instant impact and I think, for me, he is best suited to a role slightly further up the pitch so we can see the best of both his attacking and defensive capabilities. I think to combine the confidence that United’s attacking force has had of late with a return to fitness of captain Nemanja will see a United team that will look more rounded in all areas than it has done since the glorious double winning team of 2008/9, and hopefully Liverpool will be the first team to feel the wrath. Viva La Vidic.