Man Utd Focus - Vidic compounds Ferguson's ever-increasing defensive crisis
Manchester United's defensive crisis deepened this week with the confirmation that club captain Nemanja Vidic will be sidelined for two months due to surgery. The Serbian was left out of Sunday's victory at Anfield after complaining of tightness in his knee, and following subsequent examination it was deemed necessary for a meniscus operation to be performed. This leaves Sir Alex Ferguson down to the bare bones in the centre of defence.
The manager will also be concerned that it is the same knee that caused Vidic to miss five months of the previous season after rupturing his cruciate ligament against Basle in a Champions League fixture last December. The 30-year-old regained his fitness for the inception of the new campaign, and the signs were promising that the once-impenetrable partnership with Rio Ferdinand could be rekindled at a time when United's backline has been uncharacteristically poor.
Now, however, the Old Trafford defence is just one more injury away from decimation. Should Ferdinand or Jonny Evans - himself only recently returned from ankle surgery over the summer - be ruled out, Ferguson will be forced into a difficult decision regarding his centre-half pairing.
With Phil Jones out for another eight weeks in the wake of knee surgery, and Chris Smalling yet to return to training after a metatarsal break, Michael Carrick has already deputised at the back twice this season, and is generally fairly comfortable in doing so. This however weakens United's midfield, which itself has been the subject of criticism already in the new campaign. Alexander Büttner coming into the side with Patrice Evra moving inside is not an ideal solution, so the manager could therefore look to his youthful options, with Scott Wootton and Michael Keane the prime candidates for a step-up to the first team.
Both players completed the full 90 minutes against Newcastle in the League Cup tie at Old Trafford on Wednesday, and were for the most part able to deal with the threat that the Magpies posed. Once Papiss Cissé came on however, the young duo were presented with a greater challenge, and were put more onto the back foot for the remainder of the game. The experience of playing for the first team in front of almost 50,000 supporters still represents a valuable education though, especially performing alongside the likes of seasoned pros such as Darren Fletcher, Wayne Rooney and Anderson.
Wootton was making his debut for United, having cut his teeth on loan with the club of his youth, Tranmere Rovers, in addition to spells last season with Peterborough and Nottingham Forest. Keane meanwhile made his senior debut against Aldershot in last year's League Cup, coming on as a second-half substitute. He won the Reserve Player of the Year award at Old Trafford for 2011-12, and his potential has been recognised by fellow centre-back Evans.
The Northern Irishman said: “I’ve been really impressed with Michael when he’s stepped up into training with us and I can see him getting a bit of a run-out if things go well.” Should Ferdinand, or Evans himself, fall foul of the decimation to United's back-line, it may be more than just a bit of a run-out that is required of Keane or Wootton.
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