“I can’t understand our defending. I can’t get to the bottom of it. We certainly make it difficult for ourselves. If you analyse the goals we are conceding they are all different types.”
Those are not the words of a struggling manager whose job is at stake; those are not the words of a someone who needs to desperately win. Those are also not the words of a manager whose team has scoring problems. Those, are the words of a clearly exasperated Alex Ferguson and they come after a 3-2 comeback win against Braga in the latest Champions League fixture.
Surprisingly, Manchester United have conceded the first goal eight times in their 11 fixtures (English Premier League + Champions League) this season.
Despite conceding first, they’ve managed to win six of those eight games.
But here’s the catch: with the exception of Tottenham Hotspur, they haven’t faced a top team yet. Liverpool, erm, are a big name but not a top team anymore. They’re 12th in the table and even Steven Gerrard thinks they need a miracle to win the league.
- Marouane Fellaini scored first and Everton won 1-0.
- Damien Duff opened scoring in Fulham’s 3-2 loss at Old Trafford.
- Ricky Lambert scored first in Southampton’s 3-2 loss.
- Steven Gerrard opened the scoring in Man United’s 2-1 win against Liverpool.
- Jan Vertonghen scored first for Spurs in their 3-2 win at Old Trafford.
- Rooney’s own goal means Stoke were 1-0 up at Old Trafford, but United won it 4-2.
- Cluj also managed to score first against United before going down 1-2.
- Braga took a 2-0 lead at Old Trafford before eventually going down 2-3.
The worrying part is what United’s fixture list looks like after the Braga game. They take on Chelsea in Sunday’s (28th October) vital league fixture before facing them again in the League Cup in midweek (31st October) and then take on Arsenal on 3rd November in the EPL. You may beat teams like Stoke and Braga even after falling behind, but judging by how Michael Kightly scored after virtually jogging past United’s defence, the future looks ominous. Even the first goal that Braga scored was ridiculous considering there were four United defenders in the box and one Braga player managed to head in the net.
These three matches could decide where they end up at the end of the season and can make or break the squad’s morale.
So, what exactly is the problem for Ferguson? He has a potent attack who have scored 29 goals 12 matches with a quad-attack of Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez.
The ‘Nemanja Vidic being injured’ excuse doesn’t always work. Plus, he’s played five matches this season and the problems were still there. In top teams, when someone goes down, the other steps up. United were scoring without Rooney out with a gashed leg, so Vidic’s absence should not mean conceding goals.
The real problem lies in Phil Jones and Chris Smalling also being out injured. And the failure of Jonny Evans to continually give good performances with Rio Ferdinand alongside him has added to the trouble. Rio is not as good as he was. If he was, then Vidic’s absence should be shrugged off and the team should move on.
Vidic, Jones and Smalling are all expected to be available for selection by the middle of November, but by then it’s possible Chelsea run away at the top of the league. And their form suggests that this time, they’re in it to win it.
Among other complaints is the diamond formation which isn’t working wonders exactly. Michael Carrick is the only defensive midfielder they have, with Tom Cleverley, Anderson and Shinji Kagawa all preferring to play in the attacking third. Paul Scholes, who sits back isn’t quite a defensive midfielder as he is a play-maker whose responsibilities are not breaking attacks.
Ferguson needs to patch up his squad quickly. He has had all this time to experiment but the results have dramatically been the same: concede early and work your socks off to come from behind and win.
But that, it seems, will not last forever. Not against the big guns.