United faces defensive crisis
Manchester United are facing an injury crisis in defence, with up to five defenders and a goalkeeper missing for the next two weeks of the season. In addition to injury absentees Edwin van der Sar (hand), Gary Neville (groin), Rafael da Silva (shoulder) and Nemanja Vidic (calf), United lost Rio Ferdinand (thigh) ahead of the weekend match against Birmingham City. Worse was to come though, with Johnny Evans limping out of the match in the second half. All six players are set to miss Wednesday’s Premier League at newly promoted Burnley – defensive troubles that could undermine the start of the campaign.
While the word crisis has become a football cliché, United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson will be grateful for the depth of resources at his disposal with the lengthening injury list. In a move that Rant predicted in our weekly podcast – Rant Cast – Brazilian kid Fabio da Silva deputised for his injured brother on Sunday, following a bright cameo performance in the Community Shield. Meanwhile, Wes Brown, freshly back in training following yet another lengthy long-term injury lay-off, slotted into central defence alongside John O’Shea during the second half against Birmingham. Belgian youngster Ritchie de Laet, who performed so admirably in the home friendly against Valencia, came into the squad at the weekend and is likely to make the bench for the Burnley match.
Ferdinand is set to miss at least two weeks after he received a thigh injury during training in the build-up to the Birmingham game. The defender’s normal partner Vidic has so far failed to recover from a calf injury that is set to keep him out for a similar length of time. It means that of Ferguson’s first choice back-line only Patrice Evra will be fit for the match against Burnley on Wednesday. Fergie will be desperate that Johnny Evans returns ahead of the games away to Wigan Athletic next weekend and at home to Arsenal on August 29. United then faces a tough trip to Tottenham Hotspur before the first derby of the season on September 12.
The crisis has prompted speculation that the manager may make a late move into the transfer market, with former Untied player Ryan Shawcross widely rumoured to be available at Stoke City. It would be an unusual move by Ferguson, however, to panic buy rather than trust the squad at his disposal.
At least the manager can be happy with Ben Foster, whose nervous display against Chelsea in the Community Shield, was not replicated at the weekend. Indeed, the ‘keeper saved brilliantly from Birmingham’s Ecuadorian striker Christian Benitez late in the game and generally looked commanding to help earn United the three points.
Foster was a positive in a generally low-key opening to the season that saw the Reds dominate possession against newly promoted Birmingham, without converting chances to goals. Ferguson will have been relieved to have taken the three points after the lively Brummies created several chances to equalised, including Bentez’ strike and a chance that Evra headed off the line.
Foster will need to maintain that form though, with new players Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia still bedding into the team, a paucity of goals conceded is surely central to United’s success this season. Ferguson will be hoping that the current crisis subsides as quickly as it has built up.