For those of you that don’t know or can’t decipher “rioferdy5” was a reference to Rio Ferdinand and having been out for 2 months, his return at Stamford Bridge showed just why he is so important to Manchester United.
Much has been written about the defender in recent weeks, much pertaining to the England captaincy. As well as that fiasco I saw his ability called into question by those uncertain about how injury will affect his performances with the image of Fernando Torres racing past him at Anfield last season to open the scoring all to fresh in the memory. Ferdinand has missed large chunks of the last 3 seasons with injury and this latest 2 month lay was expected to last longer with Sir Alex claiming that his season could be over so his return was a huge bonus before he had even kicked a ball.
This is no slight on Chris Smalling who has been a revelation for United this season. The young defender’s emergence has allayed the fears of most that if Ferdinand finally picks up an injury that can slow him down, replacing him won’t be as hard as we had expected. Smalling’s partnership with Nemanja Vidic, whilst not quite up to the standard of the Serb’s with Rio, has been solid and shows signs of developing into something special if given time.
The two were majestic against Man City but it goes without saying, a Rio/Vida partnership would be the first choice of any United fan.
On Wednesday when the two were reunited for the first time since the home game with Aston Villa on February 1st we were reminded of what we had been missing.
It is often said but I can’t stress enough that Vidic is a lot more confident and comfortable with Ferdinand beside him, the two compliment each other as Ferdinand’s silk is the perfect foil for Vidic’s rough and tumble style (the MEN quite correctly likened Vidic to Ricky Hatton and Ferdinand to Floyd Mayweather Jr) and against Chelsea this was evident as the two, along with Edwin van der Sar, Rafael/Antonio Valencia and Patrice Evra, preserved our 1-0 margin and helped us on our way to our first win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in 9 years.
Whilst it was a team effort, because of his return inevitably Rio Ferdinand and his performance was going to be scrutinized and he did everything to suggest that he hadn’t lost a step in his absence. Chelsea threatened our goal numerous times and for all the talk of his misfiring, Fernando Torres was lively. But Ferdinand was more than up to the challenge of keeping him at bay.
Early in the game he set the standard for our defensive display when he made a vital interception to beat the lurking Torres to the ball and keep our goal intact. What followed was a series of tackles blocks and interceptions that improved our chances of progression into the Champions League semi finals.
His return couldn’t have come at a better time and along with our other returning players will galvanise a team already looking good on the three fronts we are competing on. I mentioned it in a piece earlier this week that a good offence wins games but a good defence wins championships and with Rio back to partner Vidic in the heart of our defence, our defence is one of the best in Europe.
Ferdinand’s return is the kind the that helps you stay on your feet when those around you are falling down so hopefully come May we will be the last team standing not only domestically but also in Europe.