No team boasted a better defensive record than Manchester United last season, with our lads conceding just 24 goals. We also had the highest number of clean sheets, with us managing not to concede in 24 of the 38 matches. For a team that prides themselves on their attacking football, it’s not too shabby.
For a successful 09/10 season we will need to ensure that our defence are just as strong, if not stronger. With several new faces coming through, I’m sure Ferguson will have a headache over which players will be starting for us as the back.
Edwin Van der Sar – Starting what will likely be his last season before retiring (and joining our backroom staff…?) eight to ten weeks later than he should, thanks to breaking a bone in his hand and finger during the penalty shoot-out in our recent trip to Germany. He certainly would have been our first choice keeper, regardless of what Sir Alex Ferguson has to say about Ben Foster, and his absence will likely be a big loss to our defence. After claiming the longest single-season world record without conceding a goal in February and claiming the Premiership’s golden gloves award, it is a real shame he won’t be about at the start of the season to defend his title.
How much playing time he gets next season is entirely dependant on how his replacement gets on…
Ben Foster – Appears to be Ferguson’s preference for our next keeper, given the amount of times he has praised the not so young keeper in the press. Foster is 26-years-old and it is definitely a case of now or never. He has bided his time so far, something we should be appreciate, but the next ten weeks could be the most important of his entire career. If he plays well, he will potentially guarantee himself United’s #1 jersey for the next decade and will certainly be taken to South Africa with the England World Cup squad. If he doesn’t play well, he won’t get much more playing time, will be sold at the end of the season and probably won’t be going to the World Cup. I hope he’s thought about that and I hope he’s up to the challenge. He hasn’t done many favours to his reputation this pre-season.
Tomasz Kuszczak – Will not bow out without a fight, if his performance against Valencia is anything to go by. He pulled off two great saves and clearly has his eyes on the prize – VDS’ shirt! In Germany he didn’t go down too well, with his woeful kicking letting him down time and again. Can we have a number one goalie who can’t kick? But is his general keeping better than Foster’s?
I think Kus is a good keeper but I don’t think he has the potential to be our first choice. Now is the time to make sure we’ve got the right man at the club who can replace Edwin. Ferguson clearly does not see Tomasz as that man so sadly for him, he will be on our bench for much of this season.
Wesley Brown – Has to be our first choice right-back if he can maintain his fitness. The injury prone defender had a great season 07/08, playing in more games than any other player the year we won the league and European Cup double. Ferguson has predicted that he will be fit for the first game of the season and hopefully that will kick-start his season, rather than set him back like his return against Boca Juniors.
With Rio and Vidic no stranger to injuries, keeping Wes fit will be important for us to have cover in the centre of defence too.
Rafael da Silva – Enjoyed a great debut season for us last season with his strength clearly his ability to attack down our right flank. When he came on as a sub for Gary Neville at the Emirates and scored a great goal, our eyes lit up. Whilst still obviously disappointed to lose against Arsenal, Rafael had staked his claim for our starting right-back position.
Defensively though, his game still leaves a lot to be desired. As you would expect of a Brazilian teenager, far more used to the attacking nature of a full-back position in South America, his positioning is at best a worry, and at worst, dreadful. Whilst the result went our way in the end against Tottenham Hotspur towards the end of the season, it was Rafael’s wandering around in the box which almost cost us the points, with him nowhere near his man Modric when he struck.
I’d have Rafael as our second choice for the position behind Wes and given the latter’s injury problems, we should see a lot of Rafael this season. The only way he will get good enough defensively is to give him experience, so I’d like to see him thrown in to the team as often as possible because the kid has great potential.
Gary Neville – Whilst a great influence to have around, it’s hard to imagine that our captain will get much time on the pitch this season. He’s crocked. After missing out on last season he really needed to have a good pre-season to stand him in good sted for winning his position back. As it is, he got sent back from Asia with a knock and hasn’t played since. Neville’s participation will largely rely on the injuries of others, given that the right-back position has been plagued with injuries over the past year or so. I personally would also take the captaincy of him. No hard feelings but you can’t have a captain who isn’t a first XI player. Had he been anyone else, his United career probably would have ended this summer, but sentimentality has kept him around – I suppose you have to have Neville in the team the year you hope to scoop the 19th title!
Ritchie de Laet – We haven’t seen much of this young full-back yet but his fleeting appearances he has been very impressive and has earnt a lot of praise from our fans. He’s confident on the ball, he’s good at attacking and has a knack for a well-timed tackle. Whilst he will probably start the season low down in pecking order, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him given quite a bit of time next season.
Rio Ferdinand – Has gone from strength to strength over the past few seasons and I would like to see the manager hand him the captaincy on Sunday and for him to keep it, regardless of whether Giggs or Neville are playing.
Last season he was a part of our defence which managed to scoop that incredible defensive record but then also the team that lost to Liverpool, Fulham, and conceded two first half goals against Spurs. His concentration has certainly improved but he is prone to lapses and we’re really going to need him to be on the ball next season. Whilst I fancy us to score plenty of goals next season despite Ronaldo’s departure, strong title campaigns always seem to be built on great defensive ability. Whilst Ronaldo bailed us out a few times last year, we can’t afford to be making silly mistakes and rely on someone else to get us out of jail.
Rio organises the defence well and commands respect from the rest of the team. He will be eager to right the wrongs of last season and during World Cup year he should get it right.
Nemanja Vidic – One of, if not our best performers last season, but all his match-winning goals and tackles were forgotten when against Liverpool he allowed the ball to bounce instead of dealing with it straight away. Fernando Torres got the best of him and the rest is history. All players make mistakes but at home to your biggest rivals is the last time and place you want to make them.
Vidic struggled with injuries last season at times and this continued through the summer, with our Serb missing out on the entire pre-season. He was taken to Munich for the Audi Cup but was injured in warm-up. It’s not a great start to a season, particularly when he’s been linked with moves away from the club for the past couple of months! Losing Vidic would be dreadful for the club so let’s hope that paper talk disappears sooner rather than later.
Jonny Evans – Should be a big year for our young defender after showing the fans last season why the manager had been so keen to hold on to him. Gerard Pique was sold in favour of keeping Evans, which was fairly puzzling given Evans never played for us and Pique had been a regular in our European outings. But the £10m we saved in rejecting an offer from Sunderland is looking like a great bit of business, with chances being that this 21-year-old will spend the next ten years or more in the centre of our defence.
He played in big games for us last season and you couldn’t really fault him. Given the way he plays, it’s hard to believe he’s so young. He is so confident and assured when in position and shows no fear when challenging opponents, no matter who they are. I’m looking forward to seeing him in action this season.
Patrice Evra – Aside from his reoccurring problems with Aaron Lennon, Patrice had a good season. One of our best players up until Christmas but he came back a different, less effective player when returning from his unjust ban. He never seemed to fully recover from the run around he was given in the League Cup final but certainly still did a job for us down that left flank.
This season I’d like to see him shooting more (not from the penalty spot though) and putting in more dangerous crosses. He is a great support to whichever winger is playing on the left but I don’t think we see enough killer balls from him in to the box.
Personality wise, he’s quickly turning in to my favourite player. He understands and is interested in our history and just generally seems like a nice chap.
John O’Shea – Was Mr Versatile for United yet again. He got a good run in the team in the second half of the season, mainly playing right-back, and got better as the season progressed. His role for us this season will be much of the same, relying on first choice players to get injured so he can get a game. Given how poor we were in Rome, O’Shea actually did a reasonable job on Henry, but for him to get the best performances out of him, he usually needs at least three or four weeks of regular playing time.
Fabio da Silva – It was his identical twin brother we got to know last season, with Fabio sitting most of the season out of the first team thanks to injury. We were told that Fabio was the better of the two though and if the pre-season is anything to judge by, it’s an assessment I would agree with. Still lacking in the defensive know-how like his brother, Fabio seems to be a lot stronger and really does get stuck in to the challenge.
Imagining him bombing down our left flank whilst Rafael takes on the right is a pretty nice thought for the future. I’d never have believed that a teenager would be rivalling Evra for his place, but that should be Fabio’s realistic goal for the coming season.
1st choice: Van der sar – Brown – Rio – Vidic – Evra