As Manchester City moved to the brink of their first Premier League title with victory over Newcastle, the inquest begins across town.
United need a miracle in the shape of a shock result for QPR at the Etihad Stadium in order to retain their grasp on the league crown. As this looks nigh on impossible, questions have begun to be asked as to where United have gone wrong. The defending champions’ leaky defence will be taking some of the blame.
United are blessed with some fantastic young talent at the back in the shape of Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and the da Silva twins. There is little doubt however that the absence of captain Nemanja Vidic has been sorely felt.
The Serb missed the humiliating derby against City at Old Trafford, with his replacement, Jonny Evans, sent off at the start of the second half to seriously debilitate his side. United went on to concede six in a shocking defensive display that is not in keeping with the way Sir Alex Ferguson drills his team.
Vidic’s discipline and organisation was missed on that day, and has been ever since his season-ending injury in December. The New Year’s Eve defeat at home to Blackburn witnessed a clear lack of command in United’s penalty area that proved very costly.
In the recent loss to Wigan at the DW Stadium the winning goal came from a short corner routine that United defended sloppily. Another corner cost the Reds dear in last week’s derby when Smalling allowed Vincent Kompany to steal a march on him. Vidic is United’s key organiser at the back, and his presence was missed.
The game against Everton that handed the initiative to City was defined by a lack of command at the back, with the defending champions conceding goals that could be described as very un-United like.
United fans are used to seeing a miserly back line that plays with authority and creates a platform for the attacking players to work from. The softness of goals Everton were permitted to score was typified by the mix-up between Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans that allowed Nikica Jelavic to score his second of the game.
Ferdinand and Evans have done well to form a decent partnership in Vidic’s absence, with the former proving his fitness admirably, and the latter stepping up his game following criticism last term. However, United lacked leadership at a crucial time against the Merseysiders, and were unable to see out the game.
With the huge possibility that the title will be decided on goal difference, United will be kicking themselves that they have not been tighter at the back. The gung-ho attitude when the game against City at Old Trafford seemed over will hurt United even more than initially thought, with that ten goal swing handing City their unassailable advantage.
The issue of goal difference should never have come into play though once United held an eight point lead over City just a few weeks ago. It is the loss of points associated with poor defending that has been most harmful to United’s title bid.
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