Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Progress Report - Part II: The Defence

Following on from my overview of our season so far, today I will look at the performance of our defence to date. I'll give an overall view and then marks out of ten for each player.

At the end, let me know what you think of my assessments and my ratings...


The performance of our defence has, in some ways, been more disappointing than the lack of spark up front. Whereas the injury situation at times induced near-paralysis going forward, the defence has been unaffected by injuries - the only enforced selection change was as a result of Vidic's red card against Liverpool.

Odd, then, that "Fergie's best ever defence" should have become a bit leaky - although not inexplicable, as the player ratings will make clear. Equally, no need to panic, with five clean sheets from the first ten games, including the last three in a row.

Player ratings

EVDS - 3 - not much good to say about the big Dutchman, unfortunately. I cannot call to mind a single outstanding save (ie one which the average keeper wouldn't expect to make), whilst being able to recall numerous errors and occasions of dodginess. His extraordinary mistake against Liverpool was solely responsible for turning the tide of the game against us, and he was going to same way against Chelsea before injuring himself and being subbed. His command of the area, usually so dominant, has been suspect - I find myself watching through my fingers. I fear our most reliable keeper since Schmeichel is on his way out.

Kuszczak - 5.5 - has to start taking his chances if he harbours realistic hopes of taking over from van der Sar in the long run. Had just the one shot before he got injured, so it may seem harsh to mark him, but it was the same old story. He looked a good shot stopper, but his presence in the area is non-existent. The floated free-kick which resulted in Chelsea's goal should have been his all day, every day - but whilst some keepers need a reason to stay on their line, TK won't leave it without a cast-iron guarantee. OK, but not good enough.

Foster - n/a - "Saha with gloves" is the current nickname doing the rounds, and I pray it's not true. Perhaps a more apt comparison would be Chris Kirkland, who had all the attributes to be one of the best in the world (seriously) but missed at least 2/3 of every season with a serious injury. I'm not claiming Ben could be the best in the world, but in contrast to TK he has all attributes necessary to be a huge success, and I hope he stays fit long enough to fulfil his potential.

Amos - n/a - one of the quietest, most relaxing nights a keeper could ask for against Middlesbrough, so hard to make a judgement.

Evra - 7 - one of our most consistent performers, he has been especially effective raiding up the left flank. He also proved that he can win improbably defensive duels by facing down Kevin Davies. One thing he must work on, though, is his judgment about when to go forward. Too often he has bombed on without cover and been caught out - his strategy of joining every attack only works when either only one man is left up top by the opposition or (as against Pompey, where O'Shea covered marvellously) one of the central midfielders is prepared to play auxiliary left back.

Vidic - 7 - a good if unspectacular start to the season, marred of course by that silly red card against Liverpool. Given that he lines up on the left of the centre back pair, he has been most affected by Evra's indiscipline, as he has been forced to cover out wide more than I would like to see. Whilst facing up to players with the ball at their feet isn't exactly a weakness, it isn't his most strong area (he prefers to dominant aerially and with crunching tackles), and he has done too much of it.

Rio - 9 - sensational first ten games. He has been a rock in the defence even when it has been troubled, not only with his actual interventions but also with his leadership. The sight of Rio turning to berate a team-mate is taking on Keane-esque regularity, and the team is the better for it. He still works the ball around in a cultured way, and has been a threat at the other end too. A goal or two would have bumped this up to a ten, but it's hard to see what more he can do.

Evans - 7 - promising signs from the young lad, in particular his start against Chelsea where he looked more in his depth than anyone could have hoped. My only concern is that he looks a little lightweight in the air, and as such is not at all a like-for-like Vidic replacement. He will obviously have to wait for his chances, since he's never going to force Rio or Vidic out when fit - but I hope he does wait around until he gets his shot.

Neville - 6 - whilst it has been great to see Red Nev leading the team out once more, his performances have yet to suggest that he can get back to his best. Sluggish going forward, where he's struggling to make the ground he used to and his fabled crossing has been erratic. Inconsistent defensively, with solidity intermingled with moments of madness like his lunges on Anelka and Ballack which could have earned him red. Needs to do more to justify Fergie's faith.

Brown - 6.5 - inexplicably dropped for Neville for the Chelsea game, and then left out for Rafael against Aalborg, Wes showed his character to score and be involved in a clean sheet against Blackburn. I think he has improved his game going forward out of sight over the summer, and deserved to be first choice, and I'd be fascinated to know the real reason for his omissions. Loyalty to the skipper is admirable, but Wes should be playing.

Rafael - 7 - has the makings of a real prodigy, he has whipped fans up into a fever pitch of excitement whenever he has been seen. A full back in the true Brazilian mould - both in a good sense (that he is a genuine danger going forward, not just a supporting player) and a bad sense (his defensive skills look more suited to a winger). Once we start to refine this raw diamond, though we could have a sensation on our hands in seasons to come.

Over to you - what are your views on our defence so far?


Gapi said...

Agree with the ratings. Our defense hasn't been on the same level as last year but I think they'll be back soon.

Liam said...

I'd maybe knock Evra up to an 8 as he has been pretty consistantely our best performer over the first few games. Also Rio despite being very good so far has still been a bit iffy for some games so maybe knock him down a point. Nevs has been quite good IMO and along with Scholes and giggs doesnt deserve a lot of the critcism that he gets.

thethreeRs said...

Thought your ratings were well explained. Tactically I was worried for a few games as the long ball out of defence was used -and mostly given away. Vidic was mostly responsible for this which is odd given that he has Evra and Rio wide of him, both very comfortable with the ball to feet. Whether the arrival of a tall striker suggested this strategy, I don't know - is that how Serbia play from the back? Also, Vidic is vulnerable one on one and does not 'jockey' but tends to stand square and make the first move. A good ball player will invariably expose that form of defending - leaving him the professional foul as his only get-out. If Rio is going to continue to make forays into the opposition half this will have to be thought about.

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