How many times have you shouted out in frustration this season about Manchester United’s defending? And how much have you missed the Ferdinand-Vidic partnership, which was rock solid a few years ago? Yes, Manchester United fans might relate to these questions. This is the only blemish in an otherwise successful start to the season for Manchester United. They have already conceded 17 goals in 12 games in the league. Compare this to the 2007-08 season when Manchester United conceded just 22 goals in the league in 38 matches. Or even the 2008-09 season when United conceded just 24 goals in the league. It is worth noting that Manchester United have already conceded 1.42 goals per game in the Premier League this season, a staggering 1.60 goals per game at home and 1.29 away. The defensive lapses have been camouflaged by a plethora of quality attacks from the new recruits in Robin Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa. Wayne Rooney and co. have been consistent in their play, contributing in 29 goals in the 12 league matches United has played. The stats tell me United have scored 2.42 goals per game in the league, 3 goals per game at home and 2 goals per game in away league matches. This is when you understand why United are sitting 2nd in the table despite being poor in defense so far this season. Just the two clean sheets in the 12 league matches played until now.
It is no rocket science that defense is the major cause of worry for United. They are getting away with luck and few courageous fight-backs, showing good character in the team. You wonder where the days are, when Brucey and Pally, nicknamed Dollie and Daisy by Sir Alex, used to be walls in defense. And you miss them. Bruce, a sturdy and a quality defender once said that he was not sure which one of Dollie and Daisy he was. And we did not care! They built the foundations of Ferguson’s first super team in his 26-year reign. Under Gary and Steve, Manchester United built a decade of glory in the 90s. In 1992-93, their fourth season together, Gary and Steve helped United win their first league title in 26 years. The team conceded only 0.74 goals per game in the league, which was of 42 matches per season back then. In the 1994-95 season, they proved even more miserly in terms of defense, as United conceded just 0.67 goals per game in the league, 28 goals conceded in 42 matches with 24 clean sheets! And these were at a time when teams weren’t intimidated of playing Manchester United.
Dollie and Daisy had actually started their mean record in defense since their third season together (1991-92), when they conceded 0.79 goals per game, that is, 33 goals in 42 matches. Although Steve Bruce left United after the 1995-95 season after being dropped in the final of the FA Cup against Liverpool, Pally and him had built the foundations of United’s defensive character by then. Since then, United have seen defensive stalwarts in Stam, Vidic, Ferdinand, and if we sway away from the centre-backs discussion, Gary Neville was one of the finest right-backs England has ever produced. The current squad of defenders is young, hence are prone to more errors due to inexperience. Not to forget the injuries. Carrick played at center-back in the opening match of the season against Everton and Galatasaray in the Champions League, both matches being away from home.
With the defensive lapses this season and also the number of injuries to most of the defenders, no wonder Sir Alex Ferguson, when asked about United’s defensive form and crisis this season, was quoted as saying jokingly, “I need to call Bruce and Pallister!”