Manchester United Squad Review 2012-13 Part II – DefenceBy: Ian | June 1st, 2013
Summary: A coming-of-age season for the Brazilian, perhaps best shown in his growing maturity. Known in previous times for performing rash challenges, as demonstrated on the Paul Scholes How-to-tackle-for-youngsters DVD, but showed significant improvements during 2012-2013. A large critiscism of Rafael, and indeed several full backs of modern times, has been the poor juggling between offensive and defensive responsibilities. Most annoying, particularly given Rafael’s similarity to a pensioner’s terrier, capable of grabbing the leg and not letting go; a highly useful defensive skill. Notched up three goals for his attacking troubles, against Fulham in August (3-2 win), against Liverpool in September (2-1 win), and a goal-of-the-month style rocket against QPR in February. Nevertheless, Utd’s 2012-2013 habit of conceding first cannot be ignored, and the entire defence must share the blame for this. Has age on his side and such exposure in earlier years will be immensely helpful in the future.
Verdict: Another season of development for a youthful bright spark of the defence. Has competition for the position, Smalling and Jones both capable of playing there, but the position looks to be his for now.
Season Score: 7
Name: Patrice Evra
Position: LB (Vice-Captain)
Summary: Entered the season with questions over his position, due in part to the arrival of third-best-young-left-back-in-the-Dutch-League Alexander Buttner. Not a shining 2011-2012 by his high standards, but there is nothing like competition to revive form. Back, largely, to his best in 2012-2013, though hasn’t managed as many appearances as in past years. Not renowned as a prize striker, with a mere three goals to his name in a red shirt despite a strong attacking preference, this season has seen Evra find his form in front of goal, surprisingly with his head. The first came against Newcastle (3-0 win) from a corner, repeating the feat against Arsenal in November and Swansea. Finally remembering he has feet, a goal from such limbs came against Newcastle, again, thus improving his Utd goal tally by 133% in one campaign (surely a record?). Has relapsed at times, particularly later in the season, when defensive work has gone to the wall. However, with no obvious ready replacement, Buttner being too inexperienced and Fabio on loan at QPR (and not setting the world alight there), recent reports suggest usual over-30 policy will be employed to offer Evra a one year contract extension, given his deal ends at the end of next season.
Verdict: Not hitting the heights of previous seasons, but improved. Far more experienced than anyone else available for his position. A possible transfer target area – but more likely one to be ‘on ice’ for the time being. Unless Leighton Baines buys himself out of his contract, no change expected here.
Season Score: 7
(Very difficult to find a picture of Jones that does him justice – so I’ve gone with this one)
Name: Phil Jones
Position: Wherever required + NVQ in Ground maintenance, All round utility guy with preference for CB
Summary: A combination of back and knee problems ruled young Jones out of the season’s earlier stages, after a promising debut campaign. Didn’t appear in the league under November 28th. Has nevertheless managed to notch up a score of appearances since, in positions of full back, centre back and defensive midfield. Skills perhaps best displayed away to Madrid where his hustling and harrying helped largely nullified Madrid’s attacking threat in a performance of maturity beyond his years. Unlucky to miss the return leg and complete his good work. Performer of the worst-yet-luckiest-header of the season (oddly an award missing from the PFA ceremony), with a deflected effort against Man City with an empty goal gaping. Hard to draw firm conclusion from an injury-riddled campaign, but his usage in midfield can be concerning in certain circumstances. Understandably logical against Madrid, but at other times does highlight a slight lack of something in centre midfield.
Verdict: Injury the victor in this campaign for Jones, but still signs of promise. CB should definitely be his ultimate destination.
Season Score: 6
Name: Rio Ferdinand
Position: CB or left back (in the treatment room – knock three times and ask for Rob)
Summary: The position joke above tells a bit of a lie, for while it is true Ferdinand’s seeming incapability of controlling a succession of back and groin injuries made it appear as though the veteran was fading away, Ferdinand has rebounded with surprising consistency in 2012-2013, starting more games than any other centre-back. Not only that, Ferdinand has been largely comfortable with the chopping and changing of the back line, accepting the unfortunate situation that the diamond-hardened pairing of himself and Vidic is no longer a guarantee on the team sheet or indeed, the force it once was. It has been argued, by as high an authority as Sir Alex no less, that this has been Ferdinand’s best season in red colours. I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, if only for the first-goal-shipping problem, but it has nevertheless been impressive. How much longer that can continue remains to be seen.
Verdict: The defensive part of Utd’s English spine. Has used his experience well. His contract is up at season end, but a new one-year contract is likely to be a simple formality. Has also earned himself a testimonial match.
Season Score: 8
Name: Jonny Evans
Summary: Entered the season with a delayed start to pre-season due to an ankle injury and faced competition from the returning Nemanja Vidic. Unable to rack up the same number of appearances partly as a result of this, but found goalscoring form to compensate against Newcastle, Braga, QPR and Newcastle again. No longer the error-prone player he once was, Evans’ performances were more than sufficient to prevent a groan when his name appeared on a team sheet. At 25, he is still on a learning curve, particularly as a defender, but has no doubt benefitted from the experience of Messrs Ferdinand and Vidic.
Verdict: Decent season, with some goals as bonuses. Considered part of the ‘youth’ element of the squad, but will grow out of that soon. Signed a contract mid-season, so place assured.
Season Score: 6
Name: Nemanja Vidic
Summary: Missed the majority of the 2011-2012 season with a knee injury and, whilst suffering nothing so severe since, has still struggled for fitness this season. Once a defensive rock, sourced from the finest Serbian mine, Vida is just not the player he was. At 31, he should still have the flexibility to come back well next season with some more game time, but those sorts of injuries take long-lasting tolls. Managed to return on schedule for season start, the 1-0 loss to Everton. Five days later, succeeded in scoring an own goal against Fulham. Injured between the end of September and the tail end of December. Has since featured more regularly, and scored once against Liverpool.
Verdict: Struggled with his knees, but has come back relatively well. Has faced speculation over his future due to his new found injury-proneness, with AC Milan, Barcelona and Juventus all reported as interested. Still has a season to run on his current deal, so the fact that Utd can charge something as opposed to nothing next season for an ageing defender has perhaps fuelled these stories. However, fully expected to stay for the immediate future and will no doubt look for a return to usual rock-solid form in 2013-2014.
Season Score: 5
Name: Chris Smalling
Position: CB or RB
Summary: Another player entering the season with injury, this time a broken metatarsal the culprit. As such, Smalling did not feature for the Reds until November in the Champions League against Braga. Returned to Premier League duty three days later. Has been part of the chopping-and-changing defensive lineup, but has achieved over twenty appearances. Little of distinguished standard, but has largely done the job when required. A return to fitness should seen this hope for the future grow in stature next season.
Verdict: Comfortable and mostly on development schedule. No contract issues.
Season Score: 5
Name: Alexander Buttner
Summary: A new season signing, faced with all the limelight a new signing brings. A little confusion emerged over the transfer, with one scout admitting that Buttner wasn’t some special wonder talent in the Dutch league and that he wasn’t even the best young defender in the Netherlands. Regardless, there was little assessment other than he was being brought in as a backup to current left back Evra, given Fabio’s loan to QPR, not a replacement. Nevertheless, Buttner, when presented with playing opportunities, has taken them well. Had an excellent debut against Wigan in September, registered an assist and scoring his first goal award. A further swashbuckling display at Sunderland saw him voted Man of the Match. Despite not achieving the required 5 league games, the new rules mean Utd get 40 medals to distribute as they wish, with Sir Alex confirming Buttner will receive one.
Verdict: Has not had an awful lot of chances himself, but his signing brought the best season for a while out of Patrice Evra. Plays in a similar style to the Frenchman, clearly keen to support the attack. However, must remember to balance his attacking and defensive elements to ensure there isn’t too much swash and not enough buckle.
Season Score: 4
So there we have it, defensive reviews. Comments/ disagreement below, if you will. I’ve effectively docked everyone a point, because of Utd’s trait of conceding first and too easily this term. Fair or not? You decide.