Manchester United have suffered their worst start to the season in a decade as new manager David Moyes ushers in a new era at Old Trafford.
The retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson after 26 years in charge means Moyes – ‘the chosen one’ – now has one of the toughest acts to follow but there have already been too many questions asked of the Red Devils’ defence this term.
Last season’s Premier League champions have looked very uncertain and at times shaky at the back – the ordinarily superb partnership of captain Nemanja Vidic and veteran Rio Ferdinand has looked antiquated and, at times, pedestrian.
United sit 12th in the table after 6 games played – they’ve lost three games, drawn one, and won two so far but the concession 8 goals already will have come as something of a concern for David Moyes.
However, whilst there are reasons for concern, United have actually conceded fewer goals than they had at the same stage last season – they had conceded 9 goals after six games but, crucially, had scored almost double the amount they have so far this term.
Rio Ferdinand has been and is still one of finest central defenders in the world but, now at 34 years of age, is it possible that teams are targeting him – Ferguson himself even admitted last term that Rio had lost a yard of pace in his legs and, as we saw in the weekend’s 2-1 defeat to West Brom in front of home crowd at Old Trafford, Ferdinand was turned far too easily and found ball watching on numerous occasions.
Ferdinand is a seasoned professional – he is always getting into the right positions whether it’s defending open play situations or threats from set=pieces – but in the 1-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield last month, Ferdinand allowed Daniel Agger to get in front of him and head the ball at the goal where Daniel Sturridge deflected it in for the winner. That would have never happened – Ferdinand wouldn’t have allowed Agger to get ahead of him – two or three years ago.
There were concerns last season over United’s defence but their abundance of quality in attacking positions meant that they could rely on the forwards to paper over the cracks somewhat. This season, with Robin van Persie having struggled so far with his fitness and form and Wayne Rooney carrying a large part of the creative burden, United may find those cracks begin to show and that may be why we are seeing a Red Devils side defeated at home by West Brom.
David Moyes agreed that United simply weren’t good enough but it’s not just a one-off – they let in four goals in the Manchester derby without reply until the last kick of the game almost.
Ferdinand has been found wanting on several occasions already this season in situations you would expect him to come out on top – more often than not these mistakes have not resulted in concession of a goal but, as Pat Nevin outlines via the BBC, teams do appear to be targeting Rio and, every chance they get they seem to be trying ardently to capitalize on that very slight loss of pace.
There had been rumours and suggestions over the summer United were interested in signing Ezequiel Garay and, whilst the move never came to fruition, perhaps in January, Moyes may re-assess his central defence. He has quality centre-backs in Vidic, Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling but, where Rio Ferdinand had been the kind of player who is a definite starter, it may be time soon to reconsider whether his body is still capable of competing with 21-year-old strikers who are deliberately targeting him and trying to isolate him.
image: © Paolo Camera