As they go into Sunday’s game with Chelsea, my old club Manchester United find themselves under scrutiny once more, and yet again it is the defence that is the chief cause of anxiety for many of the supporters after conceding two goals at The Hawthorns on Monday.
I see it differently. I believe that in Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones they have the makings of a partnership at centre-half and Sunday will be the kind of test that defines them.
It just requires one or both to step forward as a leader in this defence. United have always been blessed with that kind of centre-half. In my career I played with Steve Bruce, Jaap Stam, Ronny Johnsen, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. All of them had the quality and the personality to lead the team.
If necessary those players could talk a full-back through his game. They would happily do the same for the midfielders too. For Rojo and Jones that is the challenge of playing at the back for United. It is not simply a case of winning your battle against the forward, it is about exerting an influence throughout the team. In the end, it is about being a leader.
Against West Bromwich Albion on Monday, the home side had two chances and took both of them. In many respects I felt United were unlucky. For Jones and Rojo, starting a game alongside one another for the first time, it was a case of learning quickly. But they can do it. Jones has the raw talent. Now it is up to him to show he has the character to tell people what he wants from them. Rojo can do the same. He is a very crisp passer of the ball and he has played in a World Cup final, albeit as a full-back. There is no reason for him to look around that dressing room and feel inhibited about telling his team-mates what he wants from them. Gabriel Heinze, another top-quality Argentine at United, had no hesitation about doing that.
I have a feeling United can win this game, provided they can keep certain individuals under control. Top of that list will be Eden Hazard, which makes it a very big afternoon for Rafael da Silva, whose job it will be to try to smother the attacking threat of the best player in Chelsea’s team.
No one can argue with the strength of Chelsea’s start to the season. They are such a solid team. To describe them as workmanlike would be to do them an injustice, but at the heart of the way they operate is a very simple understanding of how to win football matches. They have two or three top-quality attacking players in their XI and the rest are extremely high-level, experienced, physical individuals who know how to manage a game.
Manchester United injury list
Manchester United injury list
1/5 Wayne Rooney
There is uncertainty over the extent of the Manchester United captain's injury, with fears he may have suffered ligament damage to his knee during the 3-0 defeat to Everton. Unlikely to feature against West Brom and could miss the rest of the season.
2/5 Michael Carrick
Having limped off in the 4-2 derby victory over Manchester City, it's uncertain if the England midfielder will fit for this weekend. Was unable to even make the bench for the defeat to Everton.
The right-back's return to action has suffered a set-back. After making a short appearance in the 3-0 win over Tottenham in March, the Brazilian has been pushing for full fitness. However he suffered a blow to the ribs in an Under-21 match against Leicester and could miss the rest of the season.
4/5 Marcos Rojo
Having missed the games against Chelsea and Everton due to a groin injury, the Argentina international is pushing for a return and could feature this weekend.
5/5 Phil Jones
Fellow defender Phil Jones also missed the defeats to Chelsea and Evertton but the England international has returned to training after a foot complaint and could play at against West Brom.
Much will depend on the fitness of Angel Di Maria on Sunday. I love the way Di Maria plays, although I would prefer he gave the ball away a little less. One quality is that he will always try to ensure that what he does has end product, be that a shot or a good cross. And if it does not work out for him, the disappointment passes in a second and he demands the ball again.
He reminds me of Ryan Giggs, who never allowed himself to be fazed on the pitch. If a cross or a shot did not work the first time, he was always sure that it would do so the next time or the time after that. It is a vital quality to have in a creative player. I was pleased for Monday’s first goalscorer Marouane Fellaini, whom I got to know a little working as one of Ryan’s coaches at United last season. I think there is a good chance that he will start against Chelsea, not least because he looked like the man to take care of Cesc Fabregas if Louis van Gaal decides to assign that job.
Fellaini is a good player. Is he an obvious choice to play in midfield for United? No. Would he be the first man you would look to as a second striker off Robin van Persie? No. But he is a great option for Van Gaal, and he has hit some form. In the past, United have not been afraid to use a strong individual as a target to play off, there were times that we did it with Teddy Sheringham or Dwight Yorke.
My concern, from United’s point of view, is Radamel Falcao. Is he match-fit? Is he even free of injury? He still does not look quite right to me. On Monday’s evidence it will be Van Persie who starts on Sunday. United need to win. Chelsea will regard anything more than a draw as a bonus.
Arsenal need leaders to become contenders again
It was only when the mêlée in the Old Trafford tunnel had cleared 10 years ago today, and the Arsenal players had gone back to their dressing room, that I noticed Sir Alex Ferguson’s shirt and suit was covered in part of the post-match food. As to who did it, I am afraid I would have to say that I never saw the culprit.
That was the night we ended Arsenal’s 49-game unbeaten run and the “Invincibles” were invincible no more. They couldn’t handle losing and that was why it blew up in the tunnel. I say that they could not handle it partly as a compliment, because they were such a competitive team. They had pace, style, quality, strength – everything you need to be a title-winning side.
When I look at the team that played on that day, there were plenty of leaders, especially Patrick Vieira. In those days, Arsenal wouldn’t be bullied. The absence of those kind of players is one of the reasons they don’t win league titles any more and won’t win it this season.
City must learn how to play in Europe
The same problems again for Manchester City in Moscow on Tuesday night, with yet another perfect example of how not to play away from home in Europe. They just don’t seem to learn. Once again, Yaya Touré was played as one of two in midfield and spent much of the evening on one of his strolls. David Silva gave the ball away too much. And when City just needed to control the game it all slipped away from them.
There was another poor performance from Eliaquim Mangala in defence. They tried to manage things by bringing on Fernandinho for Silva and it only seemed to make things worse. They just needed to keep the ball, and instead they just kept giving it away.
They do not seem to be capable of adapting to play in the Champions League. At United, we learnt over the years that playing with two in attack, as we did in the league, did not work in Europe. Manuel Pellegrini has Brian Kidd alongside him, and Kiddo will be able to tell him that United had to change. City need to do the same.
I’ve been impressed with Oldham
After watching the early City game, and with an evening of Champions League football ahead, there was only one place to go: Boundary Park for Oldham against Coventry City. Oldham won 4-1 and once again I have to say that I was very impressed with the team that Lee Johnson has built on one of the smallest budgets in League One.
It was the first time I have been this season and there has been a lot of change in the squad as Lee has been forced to sell, but they are up to eighth in the table. Oldham are my dad’s team so I watched them a lot as a kid and it is their result I look for after United. I have been down to watch a few of Lee’s sessions. He is only 33 and has the makings of an excellent manager.
Only one English team good enough to win European Cup
Wednesday’s defeat for Liverpool at the hands of Real told us one thing above all. That of all four English teams in the Champions League there is only one side with a realistic chance of winning it: Chelsea. Liverpool were outclassed by Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal demonstrated why he is the best footballer in the world. It was a breathtaking finish.
It was no surprise that Madrid were exceptional. As for Liverpool, they were already weakened by the loss of Luis Suarez. Without Daniel Sturridge, the fall in quality is that much steeper. Sturridge is not quite on Suarez’s level, but he is up there. Without him, Liverpool lacked the quality of players who could compete with the likes of Ronaldo, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Isco.
My player of the week: Sergio Aguero
My player of last weekend was City’s Sergio Aguero. You cannot argue with four goals, even if he did miss one of his two penalties. He also did much to dispel the suggestion that he cannot play as the lone striker.Reuse content