To be honest I couldn’t give a toss about being undefeated in the league, if we end up with the title I won’t shed tears about the windy Saturday evening we lost to Wolves. Going undefeated in 03/04 as the last refuge for a team that has underperformed for longer than I care to remember and on Saturday Arsenal fans were the first to ring my phone but they weren’t the first to do it, won’t ne the last and since they did we have gone on to eclipse what is admittedly a remarkable achievement. As I said there will be no weeping from me if we end up with the title but that’s a big ‘if’ now following Saturday’s events.
The result was bad but despite that, the work we have done earlier in the season has left us with a big enough gap to still point at those below us and laugh, the real damage was done before the game and the effects may be felt way after the final whistle was blown on Saturday.
Rio Ferdinand pulled up in the warm up to Saturday’s match with a calf injury that will see him out for at least 2 weeks according to reports and the news couldn’t be worse.
This season Nemanja Vidic has won all the plaudits for his performances and rightly so. This won’t be the first time I have said since being handed the captain’s armband he has risen to the challenge. Already one of our top performers, Vidic’s game has gone to another level and you would be hard pressed to find a better defender in the world but no man is an island unto himself.
Football is a team game and whilst there are players that shine, they tend to do so because others put in the shift that allows this to happen. Rio Ferdinand seems to have taken a back seat to Vidic this season but his importance is no less than it was in lets say 2008 when he and Vidic formed an indomitable partnership at the heart of our double winning defence. Whilst Vidic may be all guts and glory, Rio is the calming influence, the perfect foil to the physicality of Vidic and without Rio by his side Vidic at times doesn’t look as good.
When Jonny Evans stepped in to the void created by Ferdinand’s injury on Saturday we didn’t look the same but why would we? Evans is still young and learning whilst Rio is a seasoned pro. When Smalling stepped in although it was an improvement the defence still wasn’t as assured as it was when Rio is in there. I won’t say that we lost because Rio wasn’t there, there were still issues all over the field but you do question if we would have given away the cheap goals that we did?
At the start of the season in Rio absence we had the same problem, looking suspect under duress from opposing teams and whilst Jonny Evans took the flak for this I prefer to see it as a result of Rio’s absence than Evans inclusion. He stepped back into the team and we saw our results and defensive performances improve.
Rio has suffered with injuries and the number of times I have heard people say he isn’t as good as he was or that he is done completely has bored me endlessly so all I can do is point to the stats, for in the 25 league games we have played so far, United have only conceded every 135 minutes with Rio on the pitch. Whereas with Evans on the pitch it stands at every 51 minutes whilst Vidic and Smalling are in between with 97 and 104 minutes respectively so for him to get this injury now is a real blow.
On the back of a loss to Wolves and minus Rio we could really do without playing our ever so bitter neighbours. Derby games are usually up in the air so anything can happen but I, as anyone, would rather go into this kind of game high on the confidence of a win and with our first choice central defensive partnering.
We can expect no favours from Carlos Tevez and co as they too feel they are in the title race and know a win against us would see them firmly in the title race as well as peg us back so it goes without saying they will be up for it. Tevez seems to revel in the role of the hard done by former employee so he as always will be a massive threat, the kind of threat a partnership of Ferdinand and Vidic could deal with. Now we face the daunting prospect of coming up against them with either a stand in central defender who is still building up his confidence after a shaky start to the season or an undoubtedly talented yet inexperienced one.
Whilst I still won’t consider defeat, I have to tell the truth and say I am not as confident about the game and it’s implications as I was. Looking at the worst case scenario and we lose, our margin for error will have been slashed drastically from the 5 points it was last Friday so with a number of tough games still to come and with them being on the road we will suddenly look very mortal. Also the effect of 2 losses on the bounce after having gone so long without tasting defeat is another factor to consider.
That’s the thing about bad luck, it can be a right bastard and pop up just when you don’t need it and Rio’s injury was definitely an unneeded interruption to our season. We have capable deputies so lets hope that they bring their ‘A Game’ for the next few weeks!