Welcome to the ninth issue of The Red Report, the round table discussion of all things Manchester United by your favourite United blogs: The Busby Way, Stretford-End, Bangalore To Old Trafford, ManUtd24, United Youth, and Red Force Rising.

This week we discuss Twitter’s favourite English footballer, Rio Ferdinand; consider how Gabriel Obertan is progressing and we reflect on Champions League qualification.

Rio Ferdinand’s successful return from a bad knee injury has surprised a few outside of Old Trafford but not those within. Just how important is he still to any future success and the upcoming game against Arsenal?

Chudi | The Busby Way: The importance of Rio Ferdinand ahead of the Arsenal game and in general cannot be understated. He provides a calmness that we sometimes lack at the back and it inevitably has to be mentioned that we have looked a lot better at the back since he returned from injury earlier this season.

Last term we really missed him (as well as Vidic) and the fact we can have him and Vidic playing together so often is a massive plus.

It goes without saying Arsenal are a lot better attacking than defensively so it is imperative that we have a strong back line against them and Rio Ferdinand makes up a huge part of this.

Doron | Stretford-End: I’ve really enjoyed Rio’s comeback. Yes, he has to be managed closely now and rested in the games that aren’t deemed to be important but I think he’s proved quite a few critics wrong.

Whilst he may lack a bit of pace now, his classy style, his leadership and his ability to read a game are attributes that have not diminished. His understanding with Vida makes their partnership still the best in the league. It’ll be important that Chris Smalling watches Rio very closely over the next 18 months so he’s ready to take over when that time comes.

Rio’s importance in big games such as Monday’s against Arsenal cannot be underestimated. There is no doubting that opposition teams would rather see a United team sheet without Rio’s name on it than with it and for me that says it all!

Nick | United Youth: It’s been impossible not to notice how much stronger we’ve looked at the back since Rio’s return to regular action. The Ferdinand/Vidic partnership is as good as anything around when they’re both fit and on form and there’s always going to be a drop-off when one of them’s out, and that’s exacerbated this season with Jonny Evans’ struggles. The Northern Irishman has filled in admirably over the past couple of seasons but his form and confidence are at such a low ebb that it’s unlikely he’ll even be considered for action in these next two big games should Rio miss out. Chris Smalling has looked very good so far but is almost entirely untested in games of this magnitude, while Wes Brown has very little football under his belt… it all adds up to Rio’s fitness being absolutely paramount over the next week or so. Fingers crossed he can be ready and come through it, giving a midfield and attack that look to be starting to click the platform on which to make a real statement in the title race.

Siddarth | Bangalore to Old Trafford: It’s no coincidence that our defensive problems this season were solved with Rio’s return to the first team. It just shows how important Rio is to the team, and he’s still among the best in the world. His cool and calm demeanor just passes on to the rest of the team.

He had a torrid time last season with Injuries, and he might not be as fit as he was before, but we need him fit for the next two games, hopefully the Injury scare against Valencia wasn’t too serious and we shall see him start against the Gunners.

TG | ManUtd24: It’s key that Rio makes this one. Since his return, United have looked a better, improved unit conceding less as a result. But, I still hold belief that United can manage without him; but Chris Smalling is the most likely replacement and, although it might seem unfair to throw him into this one, it would be a great experience for him. Anyway, having said that, I still expect Rio to play. United and Fergie have a knack for playing players with only one leg. But if he doesn’t, it’s a concern long term – he’s had a torrid time with everything of sort. Fingers crossed, it’s a false alarm.

Alan | RedForceRising: The importance of the Rio/Vidic partnership is incredibly important. When the two of these colossal defenders are on song, they form one of the best defensive partnerships in world football. Rio’s ability to read the game is maybe only second to Nesta and will be important in tracking the momvement of players like Nasri, as well Arshavin and herding those players away from the danger areas. Rio brings a confidence, as well as calmness to the back four and he often appears to be in the right place, at the right time. Having said that, if Rio is not completely fit, he should be honest about it, as he has played while being injured before and opponents have been able to take advantage of this. I would prefer a fit Chris Smalling to an unfit Rio Ferdinand at this stage in Rio’s career.

Rio is still an important part of our solid back four but we have to prepare for the day that he no longer becomes first choice.

This week, our second player discussion is Gabriel Obertan – how is he progressing and what does is future hold?

Nick | United Youth: There’s a real opportunity for Gabby to really push on and establish himself this season and I’m dying for him to really seize that chance, but it seems to be a case of one step forward, one step back with him at the minute – occasional promising displays followed by ineffective or disappointing performances. Obviously it can’t help to be in and out of the side, and there’s always going to be that inconsistency with young wingers (United fans should know that better than anyone), but he needs to be making more of an impact when he does get games. He’s got all the physical attributes and the technique’s there (despite his occasional knack of running the ball straight out of play), it’s all about the mental side of the game with him – decision-making, composure, self-belief. There’s definitely a player in there, but with Valencia and perhaps Cleverley back in the mix come the New Year, he really needs to stake his claim sooner rather than later.

Alan | RedForceRising: Ooh Gabby….. I have to admit I have a slight man crush on Gabriel Obertan.

I was one of the more excited United supporters when Fergie signed the mercurial French youngster. He had impressed me while I was following the amazing Karim Benzema, whose talents are being wasted and Real Madrid. Although Obertan’s exceptional talent and skill were obvious, it was equally apparent that the youngster was selfish, as well as petulant.

So far this season, it seems that “the penny is starting to drop” for Obertan, but it hasn’t dropped completely yet. When things aren’t going his way, the disappointment is written all over his face, as well as his body language, but unlike Berbatov, the disappointment seems to be with himself and not his team mates. Once Obertan can turn this dejection into a positive, driving force, Manchester United will have a very good player on their hands. One positive development is that when Obertan got injured in preseason, he was determined to make the most of his time on the sidelines and really bulked up in the gym.

My one concern is that Fergie has started playing Obertan more centrally on a few occasions this season and that’s not very fair to the youngster. He plays best on the wings and should be allowed to excel in his best position, before being played elsewhere on the pitch. I highlighted Obertan’s importance to the team this season when Valencia injured himself against Rangers and have listed that blog post as my blog of the week.

TG | ManUtd24: Massive head, massive talent. Needs to use that head the right way, though, and try to nail in some consistency into his game. Has he got the right temperament? Well…he does to a certain degree. Is he a forward or a winger? I’d say the latter, he’s an excellent dribbler, has an abundance of pace and skill. The issue of consistency, really, the only way things will change if he gets more games. Simples.

Siddarth | Bangalore to Old Trafford: Obertan has taken quite a while to settle in the team, but he has improved a lot since he first came, mostly notably, his physical attributes seems to be vastly better now, essential if he wants to succeed in the Premier League. With his blistering pace and skill, he can be a handful, but his biggest let down is his inconsistency, he needs to perform well every game. Also he really needs to settle into a position, Sir Alex has been playing him as a deep striker off late, but I’m not really sure if it is his best position. There’s a long way to go this season, and this might his best chance to make his mark on the first team.

Doron | Stretford-End: Obertan is one of my favourite players to watch but also one of the most frustrating. He has the ability to surprise and excite using his pace and trickery however what he has in technical ability, he lacks in confidence and maturity.

He’s one of the more refreshing footballers to actually listen to. His English is superb and his honesty genuine. He knows more than anyone that he has to take the chances that come his way. There is a place for him, no doubt about that but he needs to have more self belief, stop rushing decisions, enjoy himself and compose himself the right way. Maybe more than anything he needs to be consistent.

His physique is actually very good, all the gym work he’s been doing is paying off. I’ve no doubt the goal at Bursaspor was a real boost to him, a sign he can actually do it and mix it with the first team. The frustrating thing is this constant use in the number 10 role. I think everyone can see he’s a winger so to not see him used there is annoying. Playing upfront certainly isn’t doing Gabby any favours. With Valencia out I’d hope he continues to get more opportunities. Come January and with Cleverley’s return likely, he’ll have to up his game another level. There is something there though…

Chudi | The Busby Way: Gabriel Obertan has come along massively this term. His growth physically has aided his game and we can see him putting himself about properly when coming up against opposing players. Where as initially we saw him as a winger we have seen him used as a second striker, a role he has played in the reserves, and it is role in which he has looked competent.

Despite looking better as well as more versatile he has a lot more to learn and is far from the complete article, he has been ineffective in games and against West Ham, I was surprised he stayed on and Bebe went off. But he is playing games and getting experience, which is the best thing for a young developing player.

Still as raw as when we signed him but Obertan has talent…why he’s playing centrally beats us though!

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