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Will defensive woes cost United in the race for top 4?

Shayne Dias
ANALYST
Modified 06 Feb 2014, 00:24 IST
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David Moyes

David Moyes

Manchester United have seemingly struggled to adapt to life after Sir Alex Ferguson for most of the 2013/14 season. Despite that, they managed to pull off one of the coups of the January transfer window and secure the signing of Spanish playmaker Juan Mata from Chelsea. He is a player with enough quality to not only lift the spirits of a club that has appeared shrouded with gloom but help them in their bid to get Champions League football next season.

Their title defence can safely be ruled out at this point; United do not currently have a squad capable of competing for the Premier League. Nevertheless, while Mata can undoubtedly be dubbed an excellent signing, will United regret not strengthening other areas of their squad?

The two major problem areas in their current squad are the midfield and their defence. United appeared to have done enough to strengthen their midfield during the summer when the club signed Marouane Fellaini for a whopping £27.5M. However, the Belgian has struggled to nail down a spot in United’s starting XI. Fellaini was never disciplined nor was he tactically astute enough to play as a part of a two-man midfield, and that has been found out on the few occasions he has played for United.

Michael Carrick is the one decent midfield player United currently possess. Tom Cleverley has been flattering to deceive for quite some time now and Darren Fletcher, despite being a good player, has had injury problems to deal with. Phil Jones has been used in midfield on occasion, but he has made it clear that his future lies as a centre-back. United were reportedly interested in signing Nemanja Matic, but their interest seemed to have died down recently and the Serbian completed a move to former club Chelsea. He was a player United could have used more than Mata.

The other problem area is their defence. Due to injuries and poor form, United have used a number of different centre-back pairings this season. The one that appeared to work best was the combination of Phil Jones and Jonny Evans. Nemanja Vidic has looked alright this season, but his defensive frailties get exposed when it comes to defending the spaces behind him. Given that Moyes is trying to implement a high pressing system, that’s a frailty that could cost United a fair few goals in the long run.

The left-back position is another problem area for United. Patrice Evra is good going forward, but seems to be almost reluctant to track back at times and he has been punished for it a few times this season. The same can be said about Alex Buttner. Fabio da Silva was barely given a shot, but it’s evident Moyes doesn’t think he was ready for regular first-team action just yet and he was duly sold to Cardiff City.

Given their weakness in that position, it was almost surprising they didn’t push hard enough to sign anyone in January. That being said, Leighton Baines and Fabio Coentrao were linked to the club, but nothing materialised.

No one will deny the fact that Juan Mata is a very good signing. But how long before the euphoria of signing a talented player fades away and it becomes increasingly obvious that the club desperately needed to strengthen in other areas too? The fact that United were unable to carry out any decent business in January (and in fact in the summer) may well be enough to cost them Champions League football next season.

Published 06 Feb 2014, 00:24 IST
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