Manchester United vs Chelsea analysis: Simplest errors at the back are leaving United very vulnerable, writes Danny Higginbotham

Former Premier League player Danny Higginbotham analyses Sunday's fixture

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The Independent Football

Some people are saying that all Manchester United need is continuity at the back to solve the defensive problems that Chelsea could make mincemeat of this weekend. But the problems we saw again at West Bromwich Albion again in the week were nothing to do with that. They were simply rank bad individual mistakes. I was never good enough to make it as a Manchester United player but I would have been embarrassed to make some of those mistakes in my four years at the club, at the start of my career.

First we saw Luke Shaw stepping across in front of Marcos Rojo going for a ball he should never have tried to make his. Shaw misses it, Daley Blind goes out to cover and suddenly Stephane Sessegnon – Blind’s man – is totally free to score. Then we saw Rafael failing to push up with his defenders, playing Saido Berahino onside to score. Jones didn't help Rafael out either, by selling himself and going into an area he didn't need to be in. It’s stuff that a Manchester United defender should never get messed up with.

Those kinds of mistakes are solvable. It’s not as if we are seeing opposing sides destroying United’s defence. United have not conceded a goal this season when you could say United have been blown away. But it does come down to a missing quality that we were always used to seeing in a United defence. Leaders. Phil Jones came to the club with the reputation of being a leader. Sir Alex Ferguson’s claims about him were amazing at times. He has to stay clear of injury of he is to be that man at the helm for the club.

Jose Mourinho has shown how he can look at the best players in the opposition and make a weakness out of them. Against Manchester City last season, he identified that David Silva likes to go inside and vacate space on the left. So he had Petr Cech playing high balls on the angle to Branislav Ivanovic last February. And Ivanovic scored. On Sunday I would expect him to have looked at the way on Angel di Maria goes forward and to try to isolate Luke Shaw down the right hand side. That’s what West Brom did on Monday.


The vulnerability means that United need to approach Sunday like an away game. Chelsea are in a league of their own in this division and if United try to use their galaxy of attacking players and go at them, they will get punished. On Monday they had three defensive minded players on the pitch – the two centre backs and Blind. On Sunday, they need to play 4-4-1-1, with Marouane Fellaini playing behind Radamel Falcao or Robin van Persie and two defensive minded midfielders: Michael Carrick or Darren Fletcher with Blind. Fellaini serves two purposes: his physicality will help kill that dangerous Chelsea counter attack due to the long ball to him, which will allow United to bypass Chelsea’s midfield, leaving that unit of Mourinho’s side doing a lot of running back towards their own goal.

United fans will say that United must always play the attacking United way but they need to be realistic at this moment in time. The strategy must to be cautious, grow into the game, allow Chelsea no time on the ball for their quick counter attacks, make sure they have plenty of possession. Then they can use all that firepower of theirs.

Danny Higginbotham co-hosts TalkSport’s Saturday evening programme, The Season Ticket, with Danny Kelly. He tweets at @Higginbotham05