Team-mates hail Rio Ferdinand's form for Manchester United
Rio Ferdinand may be surplus to requirements for Roy Hodgson, but his Manchester United team-mates are thankful to have him around.
Again left out of the England squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, Ferdinand was on the right track in Newcastle yesterday.
The 33-year-old showed all the old poise to stroll through a 3-0 win over Alan Pardew's men that kept United in touch with early Barclays Premier League pace-setters Chelsea.
Afforded more protection by United's new diamond formation than he got the previous weekend against Tottenham's speedsters, Ferdinand showed he remains a class act.
Not that the United dressing room ever felt otherwise.
"Rio is quality," said defensive colleague Jonny Evans.
"He is so experienced. He cruises through games.
"He comes off at the end and there is not a bit of sweat on him. It looks like could play on and on."
That is the style Ferdinand adopts when he is at his best.
It is the reason why there were calls for him to be recalled by Hodgson for the forthcoming games with San Marino and Poland.
Sir Alex Ferguson is doubtless glad Hodgson has chosen a different route given the delicate nature of his defensive resources, even when Chris Smalling gets ready to return from his broken metatarsal after the international break.
Nevertheless, the defence of Hodgson's position, if not by him then by others who share the same opinion, has brought criticism Tom Cleverley cannot fathom.
"Rio has had one bad game in six months," said the midfielder, who scored United's brilliant third, even if his manager insists he did not mean in.
"We have conceded a few goals and made a few silly mistakes this season.
"But I couldn't believe some of the stuff I have read about Rio in midweek.
"He has definitely not deserved that."
Repelling the threat of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse should provide a welcome confidence boost for United after their disastrous attempts to subdue Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon during that damaging home defeat by Tottenham eight days previously.
The ease with which Spurs cut straight down the middle of United's midfield at Old Trafford prompted a tactical rethink from Sir Alex Ferguson that involved Wayne Rooney adopting a deep-lying midfield role.
And it seems to be working, even if Ferguson accepts there are issues that have to be taken into account.
"The diamond closes off the midfield," he said.
"Your only problem is when the ball goes out wide because you need to be aware of how far your midfield gets separated.
"But if you try to keep the tightness in midfield, the opposition has to go wide."
Even at this early stage of the season, it was a big win for United.
Going into the game seven points behind Chelsea, whom they visit on October 28, they knew anything other than a victory would put them in trouble.
"Seven points is a big gap and if we had dropped more points it would have been a big task," said Evans.
"Although it is still early on in the season, you don't want to give a team that kind of advantage."
There was an additional piece of good news for United today with striker Robin van Persie not facing any sanction for his second-half clash with Yohan Cabaye during yesterday's game.
Referee Howard Webb reviewed the incident again this morning after initially missing it and decided it was not worthy of a straight red card.
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