Because while Roberto Mancini has enough quality players to do much better,
Sir Alex Ferguson must worry that injuries and declining form make his job a
little more difficult in the short term.
United, of course, have been extraordinarily unlucky to lose Nemanja Vidic at a time when Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are also missing. On top of that, Rio Ferdinand is showing signs of age that have proved costly of late. When you can’t get about the pitch as quickly and nimbly as you once did, confidence is bound to suffer as hesitancy creeps in.
That also applies to Patrice Evra, whose struggles at left-back further weaken
a back four that should be seriously tested again at Newcastle on Sunday.
Remember this fixture last season? Alan Pardew’s players trampled all over
In the middle of the park, Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick just couldn’t cope with the energy of Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye, while Demba Ba gave Ferdinand and Jones a proper runaround.
Ferguson certainly won’t have forgotten that humbling night and, under the circumstances, you wouldn’t blame him for changing tack to avoid a repeat, even if it means compromising United’s usual attacking adventure.
Ferdinand, for instance, would surely welcome a deeper backline to combat the pace of Ba and Papiss Cissé. In terms of anticipation and positioning, the centre-half is still one of the best around, but, as his 34th birthday approaches, he doesn’t need to be constantly running towards his own goal.
That happened far too often against Tottenham last week, partly because the midfield couldn’t offer much protection when the likes of Gareth Bale stormed through the middle. It led to Jonny Evans committing the cardinal sin of crossing over, running behind Ferdinand to leave a huge gap.
To avoid such scenarios, United’s central midfielders could do worse than sit
nice and tight in front of that rearguard to deny any space for the
counter-attack. In a straight chase, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs or Carrick
don’t have the legs to compete. They’ve got to turn this match into a test
of pure ability. On that score at least, they stand a great chance.
Few can understand why Mancini changed a winning system, why he dropped Joleon Lescott as Vincent Kompany’s partner or why he started experimenting with three at the back. The club’s famous title victory, after all, was built on defensive resolve. In Kompany and Lescott,
From what I hear, though, the Italian truly believed he had to make changes in order to move the team forward. That meant introducing a better player on the ball than the limited Lescott, hence the appearance of young Matija Nastasic.
In pre-season, what’s more, the team had looked very good with three centre-halves. It seemed like a shape that might just work. Mancini, however, was forced into a rethink when the tactic backfired at Liverpool in August. Neither did it last long against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday, the manager quickly reverting to four at the back after conceding a soft goal with three.
The move only seemed to confuse, to leave defenders unsure of their precise role.
For Saturday’s home game with Sunderland, then, Mancini will surely stick with what his players know best and hope several can up their game to the levels of last term. Kompany, Yaya Touré, Samir Nasri, none has found the form that served City so well.
But a certain starter today should be Gareth Barry, whose calm demeanour and sound positioning have been missed at times. With Javi Garcia doubtful, Barry should get the nod to lend some stability to a stuttering midfield.
His experience can certainly be useful in countering the lively Stephane Sessegnon, just as Lescott’s strength in the air might come in handy if James McClean gets a chance to swing in a cross towards the prolific Steven Fletcher at the far post.
Mancini might want to move forward but, in doing so, he shouldn’t ignore some dependable stalwarts.