Rooney injury adds to list of worries for Ferguson

Striker will miss tomorrow's Champions League tie but Vidic reveals concern at poor defensive start to season

All the images from the Reebok Stadium seemed to be of one man. There was Wayne Rooney punching the ball away in anger with his gloved hand. There was Rooney nursing his injured ankle on the bench with an ice pack. There was Rooney with his head in his hands. Frustrated Rooney. Hurt Rooney. Despairing Rooney.

And yet the form of England's most naturally gifted footballer – who is missing today as United head for Spain and their Champions League tie at Valencia in order to receive treatment on that troublesome ankle – is not the greatest threat to Manchester United seizing back their Premier League title. In 1985, the year of Rooney's birth, the England opening batsman, Graeme Fowler, found himself going from making a double century in a Test in Madras to playing for Lancashire's second XI in the space of a few months. "You never entirely lose form," he was told. "It just hides in some funny places."

Rooney's ability as a footballer dwarfs that of Fowler as a cricketer and not since the dour, grinding years under Dave Sexton have Manchester United lacked for goals. They scored twice at Bolton but still only drew.

Their problems lay further back. When on Sunday, Martin Petrov turned Park Ji-sung and scored what he claimed was his first goal with his right foot, it was the ninth United had conceded in their last five games. In their three away fixtures in the Premier League United have conceded seven times. They have not lost any of them but tomorrow they face Valencia, La Liga's early pacesetters, beneath the sheer, steep stands of the Mestalla.

"We have to do much better in Spain than we did at Bolton," said captain, Nemanja Vidic. "The last few games we have played away have been disappointing. We need to work on it and not allow it to happen again. Our defending has always been our platform. At Bolton, there was one goal conceded from a set-piece and one after a corner, which is not good. We are giving teams too many opportunities."

"It was frustrating after the Arsenal and Chelsea results," added Vidic, echoing the thoughts of every member of Sir Alex Ferguson's squad. "You see them lose on Saturday but in the end we didn't get the advantage we wanted. It is a big concern conceding so many away goals. In the past we haven't given teams many chances but in the last three away games we haven't kept a clean sheet. We have lost too many goals in away games and we have to stop that. It is not what we are used to and it can't happen again."

Rio Ferdinand, the man with whom Vidic built perhaps the best central-defensive partnership in Europe, was in the stands at the Reebok; and in his absence United have stumbled repeatedly. Age and injuries may be taking their toll of a defender who could compare with Paolo Maldini for elegance but whose career, unlike the great Italian's, may not extend into his late 30s. If there was a reason why Manchester United were able to fend off Liverpool's challenge in 2009, it lay in the fact that between 8 November and 21 February, they did not concede a goal.

In Jonny Evans, they appear to have a ready-made replacement for Ferdinand. Evans was persuaded by Ferguson to remain at Old Trafford rather than join Roy Keane at Sunderland because the United manager was so sure about the young Ulsterman's future.

His positional play is often exceptional but Ferdinand's absence has coincided with a dip in Evans' form and the results were evident at Bolton. Had Johan Elmander found the net after dispossessing Evans and taking the ball round Vidic, Manchester United might have dropped three points rather than two. Had Patrice Evra been correctly stationed on the far post, he would have cleared Zat Knight's opener.

At Goodison earlier this month, the Everton manager, David Moyes, remarked that while his players might have been "euphoric" that they had scored twice in stoppage time to force a draw against United, he was not. He thought Everton might have won.

"It is hard to explain what is going wrong," said Vidic. "A lot of the goals we have conceded have been from set-pieces. It is not the true Manchester United. It doesn't happen a lot but in the last three games we have conceded the type of goals from set-pieces that we haven't conceded in the last four years. It does have to be sorted out very quickly."

The worst United defence for nine years?

*Manchester United have conceded nine goals in their opening six league games, their worse start to a season since 2001/02. Back then, their 'goals against' tally reached 10, with the main reason for such alarm being the Achilles injury to Jaap Stam, who was then sold to Lazio during that run of games. A year later, Rio Ferdinand would arrive, but the unsettled back-four featured Gary Neville (who was 26 years old), Ronnie Johnsen (32), Wes Brown (21) and Phil Neville (24).



*United's most common defence this season: Van der Sar (age 39), O'Shea (29), Vidic (28), Evans (22), Evra (29).

News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links