With the news that Rio Ferdinand is to serve a four match ban for his scuffle with Craig Fagan comes further uncertainty about the sustainability and consistency of this current United back four.
Robbed off their first choice centre half and often captain for all but 10 games this season has proved costly at times. It may be true that Carlos Tevez gave him the slip for City’s goal on Wednesday night and the defending at times against Hull was not of the required standard but his mere presence is enough to instill confidence throughout the ranks. From the four games that Ferdinand will miss, three of them are tough away trips to Goodison Park, Villa Park and this weekend’s encounter at the Emirates, games that United must win. Whether Nemanja Vidic will have shaken off his consistent injury troubles to take his place partnering Jonny Evans against Arsene Wenger’s side is not certain. The fact that he made the bench for the League Cup match this week suggests that this may be the case, but the Serbian’s fragility and constant problems with injury has been evident for all to see. Defensive problems aside, United look to be hitting some consistent form, going forward with seven goals in their last two matches and in Wayne Rooney have a player on top of his game and being hailed as one of the best in the world. Certainly Rooney has taken to his role playing centre stage with apparent ease. His four goals against Hull and winner against City may have been the source of the plaudits for the man himself but they have also been the source of criticisms of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
United have again been labeled a one man team with Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti in particular stating that if United were to lose Rooney their season would fall apart, whereas Chelsea have been playing fantastically without Didier Drogba. This may be the case that if United were to lose Rooney they would have little chance of retaining the title but that is simply due to the fact he is a truly world class player. Sir Alex Ferguson praised Rooney’s overall game against Manchester City stating that his control, the way he lead the line and his penetration were first class. In truth Rooney is the ideal blend of subtlety and directness and is the real difference between a team like United who consistently win trophies and a team like City who aspires to but is not there yet. He has the talent to score goals himself but plays with such awareness of his teammates around him that he is always likely to provide assists. If you only have one such a player in your team, it is impossible not to build your team around him. Drogba is a fantastic striker and is certainly up there with the best in the world and in terms of strength and leading the line there is no one to better him. He does not however, have the versatility and subtlety of Rooney which provides that extra bit of nous in and around the penalty area.
Looking at United’s midfield this season we can see one consistent performer in Darren Fletcher and the City match was no exception. Fletcher was everywhere again, earning praise from his manager for his tireless work rate. Add to this the ability of both Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick to control the ball and dictate the pace of the game in the middle of the park it is evident to see the depth of quality United have. These two players both grabbed a goal in the second half spell. City boss Roberto Mancini felt was the difference between the two sides but it was their contribution in dictating the play that was the real difference in this spell in the second half. For successful sides it is imperative that you force your game onto your opponents through the midfield, something which Carrick and Scholes did excellently against City. A team with the ability to do this can hardly be labeled a one man team.
United face Arsenal this Sunday in what is a crucial game at the top of the Premier League. It is likely that United will employ a similar formation as the one seen against City with Rooney deployed as a lone striker. For United to come away with a win it is imperative that the wide players get up to support Rooney and that the aforementioned midfield players are able to control the game and stamp their authority on a fantastic Arsenal side. If they can do this, with Rooney in the side on current form there is every chance he could prove the match winner once again.