Cristiano Ronaldo has proved he is not just a one season wonder, smashing his form of last season, scoring 22 goals in the 24 games he’s played in. He’d scored 8 goals in as many games last season, in a year which saw him claim a clean sweep of the individual domestic player awards. He has gone on to stake his claim as the best player in the World at the moment, scoring for fun, whilst United have endured lengthy injuries to Wayne Rooney, and more notably, Louis Saha.
Whilst Ronaldo claims the plaudits, there are several players’ contributions which go unnoticed. Anderson, who is having a blinding season, has said that he doesn’t mind doing the work for Ronaldo to get the praise, for as long as the team are doing well. “For me it is not a problem to be Cristiano’s garcon in the team,” Anderson said last week. “My work in United is to help the team and with that I am happy. I am happy working for the success of Cristiano. I promise that I will help Cristiano to score more goals.”
It is the Manchester United defence, as much as Ronaldo, that deserves considerable recognition, performing week after week to help us in our battle to retain the title. Ryan Giggs has made this point today, claiming that the defence is the foundation for our success. “The way our defence is playing at the moment is really helping us,” Giggs told MUTV. “We have had so many clean sheets this season and you need that foundation to go out and play with flair.”
United have picked up 13 clean sheets out of the 22 league games they’ve played in, an incredible 60%, and 17 clean sheets out of the 30 games they’ve played in total. During the opening months of the season, when our only striker was a less than match fit Tevez, we struggled for goals. If it wasn’t for the defensive work of our players at the back, conceding just two goals in those opening twelve games, when we’d only managed to score nine ourselves, our place in the league could be as low as third now.
Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have been incredible, leaving our goalkeeper, whether that be Van der Sar, or Kuszczak who has played in over ten games this season, with very little to do. In the 22 league games United have played this season, our opposition have had just 58 shots on target, an average of just over 2 a game, scoring only eleven goals, an average of one goal every two matches.
Arsenal, and more surprisingly, Birmingham, have racked up the most shots on target against us, both with six, where we picked up a total of four points. Chelsea and Sunderland failed to get a single shot on target. Rio Ferdinand kept Liverpool’s Fernando Torres, who is the third highest scorer in the league, in his back pocket at Anfield, snuffing the talented striker out of the game entirely, limiting them to just four shots on target at home.
Patrice Evra has certainly been in our top three performers this season and I struggle to think of one bad game he’s had so far this season. He is consistently on top of his game, as able in attack as he is in defence. Wes Brown, who has been filling in at right back for the injured Gary Neville all season, has been our weakest link, but still has been a solid defender and done a job for us.
On top of the defensive work on the back, Brown, O’Shea, Evra, Ferdinand, Vidic and Simpson have all claimed at least one assist in the league, with eight assists between them.
Of course, it’s goals that win you football matches, and it is another area we have thrived in, outscoring every team in the league, but our defensive work has gone relatively unnoticed so far this season. Liverpool are the only side close to boasting a defensive record as strong as ours, conceding three more goals.
Like Anderson, I am more than happy to see Ronaldo running away with the plaudits and praise, but it is undeniable how crucial our defence have been this season, particularly when considering we are top of the league by goal difference alone.
Keep it up lads!