Club Focus – Manchester United – Defensive headache continues

Manchester United will have left Upton Park on Saturday extremely pleased with the result but with a big worry concerning the disastrous nature of the injury problems at the back. With Nemanja Vidic falling ill with flu prior to the match United started with Gary Neville and Wes Brown at centre-half with Darren Fletcher slotting into right-back. Sir Alex Ferguson has always felt that certain central midfielders make excellent full-backs having seen both Paul Ince and Roy Keane play there under the Scot. Fletcher gave an accomplished display and was never really troubled by Junior Stanislas.

Whether Sir Alex truly believes that central midfielders make good centre-halves is not really something he has a proven track record of trying. Roy Keane may have played there on a couple of occasions but it certainly wasn’t what many of the fans expected to see when Michael Carrick replaced the injured Gary Neville who limped off with a groin strain. There are not many more accomplished central midfielders around than Carrick with his touch, technique and positional play superb. He was able to adapt this to the new position taking up the ball in a deeper position often finding the central midfield or full-backs with his passes rather than the usual centre-forward or wide men. Carrick may have looked accomplished but in truth he was never put under too much pressure from the West Ham forward players and was not forced into such traditional centre-half tasks as last ditch tackles and aerial battles. It must be said that if he was up against his England colleague Carlton Cole the former Tottenham man will certainly have had his work cut out. Wes Brown subsequently limped off when the game was won meaning that Patrice Evra slotted in at centre-half with Ryan Giggs finishing at left-back but at this stage the game was far beyond West Ham.

When questioned about the defensive problems with the upcoming Champions League fixture away to Wolfsburg looming Sir Alex had the following to say: “The injuries in defence are becoming a bit of a headache to us. Michael Carrick stepped in and did very well. Probably Nemanja Vidic will be back from flu and I’ll probably play Carrick alongside him. Carrick’s got the composure and the pace and it was a good performance in the second half. We used our experience.” Following this it has subsequently been confirmed that Vidic is in fact out of the tie and has not made the trip to Germany. This means that Carrick is likely to be the defensive linchpin with either Fletcher or Evra slotting in alongside him.

Carrick was certainly composed against West Ham but Wolfsburg will be a much sterner test – one which will require him not only to play well tactically and with composure but also to take to the dirty side of playing centre-half – something which Brown took the lead with on Saturday. Wolfsburg consistently start matches with three strikers and boast the likes of Obafemi Martins, Edin Dzeko and Grafite who will put United under significant pressure early on as they did so well at Old Trafford.

Injury problems aside United were the real winners following this weekend’s round of fixtures after their own 4-0 win and Chelsea’s loss away to Manchester City meaning that the Red Devils lie just two points behind the west Londoners. Following the loss at Stamford Bridge United have put in some fantastic attacking performances to throw themselves right back into the mix. The Old Trafford outfit had been struggling for goals meaning that their usual high goal difference was lagging significantly behind that of both Chelsea and Arsenal. With 11 goals over the last three Premier League matches with only one conceded significantly improves matters. This is down particularly to the form of three players; Wayne Rooney, Giggs and Antonio Valencia. Playing as a front three they have all provided both goals and assists over the last three encounters which may see a fit again Dimitar Berbatov struggling to regain his first-team spot. United face Aston Villa at Old Trafford this weekend with this posing the toughest test until early January, but still a match that United can comfortably take all three points from. Over the last three matches especially United have managed to do what many thought they would struggle to do following the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo – put the lesser teams to bed scoring a high volume of goals.

United certainly look in a strong position two points behind Chelsea with the Stamford Bridge outfit not looking as invincible away from home as they are on their own turf so must be believing there is the potential to claim that elusive fourth title in a row. However, as the time old clich

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