United need to tighten up

Sir Alex Ferguson joked that if his team did not improve their defending ahead of the Manchester derby next weekend he would play himself instead.

United’s defending has been remarkably shoddy thus far this season and whilst Ferguson may have been able to joke about it following United’s game with Reading there lie some real issues at the heart of United’s back four.

Losing Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling to long term injuries early in the season certainly did not help matters but Rio Ferdinand, at 34, is continuing to show his age and Jonny Evans has never been the most commanding of centre backs.

It is a credit to Ferguson’s management, then, that United are able to overcome their defensive deficiences and win games despite that leaky back four. 

How much longer can United play with fire though? Reading didn’t have the final punch needed to see them off and late goals have rescued Ferguson’s men all season long but if they are unable to tighten up and defend when needed then the better teams will surely take advantage.

The Manchester derby is on Sunday at the Etihad Stadium and Ferguson will be confident that his team have the firepower needed to cause City real problems. If his team’s defending persists to be below average as it has been then there will be cause for concern on the United bench. 

Looking at the bigger picture, Ferguson may have to make big decisions about Ferdinand and Vidic futures at the club as neither are getting any younger with Vidic’s injury problem raising concerns. Ferguson may have to dip into the transfer market come January to bolster his options at centre back.

In the meantime, though, he will have to hope that Robin van Persie carries on scoring goals and that the team as a whole outscore their opponents in order to make up for the defensive shortcomings.