United lined up against Blackburn Rovers this weekend without the usual centre-back partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic – both still struggling with respective calf injuries. This meant that Wes Brown and Jonny Evans were thrust together in a make-shift defence in front of Edwin van der Sar and together they managed to stay solid and keep what was only United’s second clean Premier League sheet this season.
For a side that based so much of last season’s Premier League success on a steady defence this does not make for pleasant reading. The problems themselves have been there for all to see, firstly with first choice keeper van der Sar suffering a pre-season injury keeping him out until recently and the dip in form of Ferdinand and Vidic. Sir Alex has again had to come out and defend Ferdinand this week from claims in the media that his best days are behind him. For a player who turns 31 this weekend, it is a little presumptuous to write him off. What he needs is rest and recuperation and to be playing completely injury-free.
In Evans, United have the perfect foil, however. He again showed his maturity and class against Blackburn, dealing with the flow of crosses and set-pieces with consummate ease. Granted Blackburn did not pose much attacking threat, until late on, and so Evans credentials were not pushed to the limit but Ferguson will have seen enough of him over the last couple of seasons to know that he can be trusted whenever he is required. It is therefore a little surprising that Rio is constantly being rushed back before he is fully fit – most United fans would rather that Evans play over an unfit and uncomfortable Rio. Ferdinand is most certainly out of Tuesday’s Champions League clash with CSKA Moscow and so Evans will continue, but with the epic clash against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge looming on the horizon it will be very interesting to see the manager’s selection. Didier Drogba will prove a stern test for any player, especially one struggling with injury and form. Last season United followed their away defeat to Liverpool with a trip to Stamford Bridge and in last season’s 1-1 draw it was Evans who came in and deputised brilliantly for the suspended Vidic. With this in mind it may be wise to give Evans another start and see whether he really is ready to step up and stake a claim for a regular first team start.
In other news, Mrs. Rooney has given birth to their first child meaning that her husband is unlikely to make the Moscow game with Michael Owen likely to get another start. United’s former Liverpool and Newcastle front man has again been talking about England in the Press prior to Tuesday’s match saying the following: “England is something that I don’t really think about. It is probably something people talk a lot more than I think about really. I genuinely go to bed thinking that I have got to play well the next day and win games for Manchester United.”
Owen is likely to be fending these questions in the wake of England boss Fabio Capello stating that he has such difficulty over the conundrum of whether to pick Owen and the Press playing on the fact that a good performance in United’s next couple of games may just get him in the squad for the upcoming friendly with Brazil. All United fan’s will be wishing Michael all the best in his quest to get back in the national set-up but what is frustrating them is the constant questioning Owen receives about his England credentials.
He has also been talking directly to the United fans through the clubs website this week about the reasons he joined United stating the following: “It’s everybody’s dream to win the Champions League and coming to a club like Manchester United you’re always competing at the top level. That’s one of the things you look at when you’re first asked to join the club.”
Owen has achieved a lot in his career up to now, most notably with Liverpool and England, but what he could potentially achieve at United can surpass all that. He has never won either the Premier League or the Champions League and being at this club now provides him with the best opportunity of doing that. What he is constantly being questioned about by the national media is England, when what he should be answering questions about is the two huge upcoming games for his club side which he could be heavily involved in. The way Owen has handled the constant barrage of the same question will be pleasing for all United fan’s clearly showing his love for his new club and desire to bring silverware to the Old Trafford table. He will obviously be disappointed if Capello does not name him in his final squad but surely a Premier League or Champions League medal will make it an enjoyable summer for Michael Owen all the same.