The number of youngsters present in United’s starting squad means that the use of the phrase ‘transitional phase’ has been coughed, spluttered and uttered by every fan, journalist and footballer in the game when describing Manchester United, but how can you pinpoint a ‘transitional phase’ in a sport that is constantly in transit?
No matter how sparingly he was used last season, the departure of Paul Scholes has indeed left gap. As well as being highly talented technically, he was a tough tackling midfielder, but, judging from United’s successful ventures this season, that kind of player is being left by the wayside in favour of an emphasis on a somewhat less aggressive short game, surely inspired by the current masters of passing, Barcelona. While United are experiencing a dip in form and their momentum has slowed, their preseason games (especially the Charity Shield win over Manchester City) show a merging of both United and Barcelona’s footballing philosophies.
So United’s style is indeed in a subtle transition period, and perhaps these small tweaks are what Sir Alex Ferguson feels will make the difference against the top European sides, namely Barcelona, but the club has more pressing issues at hand.
Defensive injury problems have now become the norm for United. With the aid of niggling back problems, United stalwart Rio Ferdinand may be edging closer towards the end of his career. Likewise, his defensive partner, Nemanja Vidic has also struggled with injury, meaning the two have rarely played together for long periods since the 2008/2009 season.
In the past this has meant the likes of Jonny Evans, Wes Brown and John O’Shea would plug the gaps, but since Steve Bruce snapped up the two latter players, youngsters, Evans and Phil Jones are the most likely candidates for the center back partnership, with Chris Smalling regularly appearing at right-back.
Whilst the word ‘tough’ has been used regularly to describe Jones, his lack of experience, combined with Jonny Evan’s occasional defensive naivety, has led to United leaking goals, and more worryingly, the amount of chances being created by United’s opposition appears to be higher than most fans would care to remember.
Now, questions are being raised over how a young and inconsistent back line can perform in Europe, and until United can hold down a regular back four, fans can expect the amount of chances created in United’s defensive third to retain their ferocity, in both type and abundance.
Ironically, the man who was scrutinized most heavily for his ability at the start of the season, has also been United’s saviour on several occasions. David De Gea, another figurehead of United’s cataclysm of youth, has made a myriad of fine stops, often saving United’s blushes both domestically and on the continent.
United head into tonight’s clash against Otelul Galati in a lowly third place in the Champions League group C table, behind both Basel and Benfica who United suffered two uncomfortable draws against. Ferguson has labelled this as a ‘must win’ game for United and can call upon the likes of Vidic as well as recall Wayne Rooney to make sure they seal the win.