Keown rips into 'unreliable' United star, implies team doesn't listen to van Gaal - is he right?

Rafael 2

Former Arsenal defender Martin Keown believes Manchester United full back Rafael is a naive player. Here's what else he had to say…

It is no secret that one of Manchester United's weaknesses at present surrounds the foundation of their formation.

For centre back legend and current football analyst Martin Keown, great teams build from the back - like Nottingham Forest under Brian Clough, Arsenal under George Graham and any Jose Mourinho team.

But Manchester United, at least throughout the summer, were seemingly focused on attack alone - as demonstrated by their enthusiasm in recruiting players of Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao's calibre.

This, while an experienced defensive trident - Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand - all departed.

"One of Van Gaal’s biggest problems is the group of defenders he has to pick from," noted Keown in his column for the Daily Mail recently.

"It is ludicrous that United allowed Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra — with a total of 1,134 appearances for the club — to all leave in the same summer.

"On top of that they have failed to bring in a dominant figure to replace these senior men, despite signing two left backs in Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo."

He continued: "An influential defender is vital for any team. From the back you can see the game unfold in front of you.

"You can cajole, you can demand a performance from your team-mates and you can encourage them.

"Brian Clough, Jose Mourinho and George Graham are just a few of the managers who built their teams from the back. Instead, United have a naivety in defence."

For Keown, there is one player who is "particularly guilty" - and that is right back Rafael.

In the player's last 61 Premier League appearances, Rafael has been guilty of contributing three errors that led to an opponent unleashing a direct shot on goal, committed a foul once every 69 minutes, saw his team concede once every 72 minutes, was dispossessed every 76 minutes and - alarmingly - lost possession every five minutes he was on the field.

"Too often he’s involved in goals United concede and too often he is unreliable. He has played 158 times for United so he’s experienced but he needs to learn fast. Ferdinand and Vidic used to coach him through games. Now he needs to be a senior member of the back four.

"He’s not developing enough," Keown summarised.

The 5-3 defeat to Leicester City will live long in the memory of suffering United fans, but also in the mindset of opposition managers who can see that there "is a weakness to exploit" as United "will crack."

Keown continued: "They used to have an aura, they used to find a way to win or get lucky. Now, they are seen as being soft at the back. Just when it looked like United had turned a corner, all the failings have come back to haunt them. Leicester were superb and took advantage brilliantly but things have changed. In the past, one penalty being given against United was a miracle. On Sunday, there were two."

The 48-year-old even implied that the Manchester United players may not be listening to van Gaal, despite the Dutchman's illustrious history.

"Whatever Van Gaal is telling his team it is clearly not sinking in. The Dutchman seems to have all the answers after each bad result, telling us why they lost and what went wrong. Perhaps he should try coming up with solutions before games and equip his players better so they stop losing."

Offering his advice, he said: "Van Gaal needs to encourage the players to have a voice of their own, so they take responsibility on the pitch. Players need to cross that white line and think, ‘I’m on the pitch, not you, and I’m going to take charge’. At the moment it seems United’s players are just hearing Van Gaal’s voice as they play and not developing their own.

"I’m sure he will turn things round because he is such a successful coach but sometimes from the players’ perspective, less is more from your manager."

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