Less than a year ago Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic was the best central defensive partnership in Europe. Along with goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, the pair kept a series of clean sheets. Now each is a shadow of the former player, lacking in confidence and making errors that are costing Manchester United games and points.
Ferdinand’s recent form has been the subject of much debate. The mistakes include a chipped pass that directly contributed to Manchester City’s third goal, which was only redeemed by Michael Owen’s last-minute goal in the 4-3 derby victory. There was also the former-Leeds player’s mistake for England in the 1-0 defeat against the Ukraine earlier this month. Sunday at Anfield, it was Fernando Torres who out-muscled and outpaced the defender to score the opening goal.
Much of Ferdindand’s poor form is the result of injury and lack of match readiness. The defender has been in and out of the side, playing only a few of the games in which manager Sir Alex Ferguson would have wished. Despite this, most United supporters believe that with a run in the team, Ferdinand’s composure and form will return.
Of more concern is Vidic’s apparent decline. The Serbian, who débuted against City shortly after signing for United in January 2006, made a nightmare start to his Old Trafford career. But the defender’s signature during the winter transfer window allowed the former Spartak Moscow star time and space to adjust to the Premier League by the start of the 2007/2008 season.
Moreover, Vidic complimented Ferdinand. The Serbian became United’s rock to Rio’s continental approach, right up until the nightmare performance against Fernando Torres in United’s 4-1 defeat to Liverpool at Old Trafford in March.
Performances have followed a similar pattern. Against Barcelona in the Champions League final Vidic allowed Samuel Eto’o to waltz past for the opening goal. More recently, during United’s visit to CSKA Moscow, Vidic made repeated mistakes.
Last Sunday, Vidic was unfortunate to pick up an initial booking against Liverpool, with the Anfield crowd playing a significant part. It was also frustrating to witness the defender sent off for hauling down Dirk Kuyt, when Jamie Carragher got away with a booking for the same crime. But let us not forget the Serbian’s mistake in fouling Kuyt in the first place.
Aside from a bruised nose – and lost bragging rights – Sunday’s match matters little in the grand scheme. Liverpool, not good enough to mount a serious title challenge, will take victory as a season’s highlight. United fans can forget about defeat when celebrating a 19th league title in May. Nobody needs reminding of that fact more than Liverpool.
Of more immediate concern, though, is how to restore Ferdinand and Vidic to the finest central defensive partnership Europe has seen, and fast.