What is Manchester United’s best central defensive partnership?

Manchester United are top of the Premier League and looking like they will win yet another title but defensively they haven’t been at their best.

So who should be in the heart of their defence? The most experienced centre back is Rio Ferdinand as he has won a lot of trophies and played a lot of games in his career. However, this also works against him because he is getting towards the end of his career and he has been caught out this year a couple of times. Most notably by Gareth Bale in their defeat to Tottenahm Hotspur at Old Trafford.

Nemanja Vidic is another player that a few years ago would have been considered one of the best in the world but injury problems have caught up with him and he hasn’t quite looked the same player and he has only played 13 times so far this season. However, he is still an imposing figure and I doubt many strikers look forward to playing against him and he also is a threat when he goes forward for set pieces. I personally do still consider him to be a great defender but whether he should be first choice anymore is another question.

If Vidic and Ferdinand aren’t guaranteed their place anymore who should play? The defender that has been the most consistent for quite a while now is Jonny Evans. The Northern Ireland international is a player that has actually performed well enough to change my opinion of him. A few years ago I didn’t rate him at all but now he doesn’t seem to do much wrong and I see it now as Evans plus one for Manchester United which says a lot as I honestly didn’t even think he would be a top half Premier League defender.

Another player that could take the position and play there for a very long time is Phil Jones. I think centre back is his best position by a long way and he will eventually settle there when he gets more experience. But that is part of the problem, his versatility is working against him as he can do a decent enough job at both right back and holding midfield which makes me think that Sir Alex Ferguson doesn’t quite trust him yet in the middle of his defence, especially for the big games. He could become one of the best in Europe but he needs to keep improving.

Finally, Chris Smalling is also an option for Alex Ferguson and like Jones he is certainly one for now as well as the long term future. His talents have been recognised both at club level and international with him starting for England in the 2-1 victory over Brazil. However, I do not think he is quite ready yet to be put in that position on a consistent basis and for me he should be fifth in the pecking order. Saying that he isn’t a bad number five centre back to have in your squad considering that he can also play right back.

The two I would choose are Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic when fit. Who do you think?

Advertisements

Will Lucio join the Premier League this season?

Inter Milan defender Lucio’s agent has claimed that he will be leaving the Italian team this summer and is looking for a new adventure in Europe.

Lucio has played 105 times for Brazil

The Brazilian international has had a fantastic career so far winning many trophies including the Bundesliga three times, Serie A once and the Champions League as well as many cup competitions. He has also played over 100 times for his national team Brazil and helped them to win the World Cup in 2002 which just shows he can perform on the biggest of stages. He first came to Europe to play for Bayer Leverkusen and instantly adapted to German football, not only defending well but also adding goals from defence with his power in the opposition in the box as well as his forward runs in open play. For Bayer Leverkusen he played and scored in the 2002 Champions League final but unfortunately they went on to lose to Real Madrid 2-1. After scoring 18 times for the club, he joined Bayern Munich and went onto even greater success, while he was in the team they were very successful in their own country and even though they couldn’t replicate that form in Europe he was still considered one of the best defenders in Europe.

Even though he was getting older his services were in great demand and he joined Inter Milan and in his first season won the treble in Italy. Inter won the Coppa Italia, Serie A and Champions League against his former club Bayern Munich. He barely missed a game throughout the season and now at the age of 34 he could still make the difference to a lot of teams in Europe. So who could he join in England?

The first team I think he could do a good job is at the current champions Manchester City. When Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott were injured last season  they struggled with Stefan Savic and Kolo Toure not looking up to the challenge and costing their team on multiple occasions. I think Lucio would just add extra experience and make a difference particularly in the Champions League because the current team have a lot of world beaters, but how many have actually won the Champions League or World Cup?

Manchester rivals United, should also be looking at him as Sir Alex Ferguson knows they need to improve their team this summer and although I was quite impressed with Jonny Evans this season, I think Lucio is a lot better than him still. Plus Ferguson doesn’t mind bringing in experience as we have seen in the past with players like Laurent Blanc. With Nemanja Vidic struggling with injuries this season he may not be able to get back to his high standards when he returns and with Rio Ferdinand also getting older he will not be able to play as many games next season. Yes they do have Phil Jones and Chris Smalling but they have been used in different positions throughout this season and that little bit of extra experience may have got them over the line this season and secured the title for them.

Finally, Arsenal always need a centre back. Laurent Koscielny has had a very good season in my opinion but he does still make mistakes and Thomas Vermaelen has struggled with injuries at times this year. Lucio is also a lot better than Per Mertesacker and the Brazilian would fit into Arsenal’s style of play a lot better as he is one of the best ball playing centre backs of the last 10 years.

He may not be as quick as he used to be but he still has a lot of very useful attributes and would add something to the very best teams in the Premier League so I think if any of these teams get a chance they should definitely sign him up.

Super Sunday- The verdict

So it was the Super Sunday Sky Sports billed it as, long gone are the days when viewers had to watch Chelsea and Manchester United battle out a 0-0 draw, we finally have goals to go with the best players in the league, but where to start, should Balotelli have even been on the pitch to score the last minute penalty? Are Spurs genuine title contenders? Is Welbeck the man to lead the England strike force at Euro 2012?

Well, I am going to start with Arsenal and has Arsene Wenger’s time at the Gunners come to an end? He made a strange decision today that actually cost his team which led to half the stadium booing the manager’s decision. He took off arguably the best player on the pitch in Alex Oxlade Chamberlain for Andrei Arshavin who failed to defend against Antonio Valencia properly and he eventually set up the winner for Welbeck. There is no doubt Wenger has been one of Arsenal’s greatest ever managers but the club haven’t won a trophy in years and are finally losing their grip on a top four place and are currently the second best team in North London which must hurt the fans more than anything. He has failed to invest in experienced players and the team looks short of quality with only Robin Van Persie, Aaron Ramsey and Thomas Vermaelen looking like top players on a consistent basis. Koscielny at the back has improved this season but still looks like he is prone to mistakes and yes Arsenal are struggling with injuries as was shown with Johan Djourou ripped apart by Nani in the first half and then being replaced by an 18 year old in Yennaris, yet Wenger still refuses to spend any money.

If Arsenal fail to finish in the top four then Arsene Wenger should step down if he is not sacked as he has done a fantastic job but the team is going backwards and therefore needs a change or Tottenham will leave them behind.

So onto Spurs, they performed admirably against Manchester City and deserved at least a draw against the team currently at the top of the table, doing this without their main striker this season Emmanuel Adebayor. But, Jermain Defoe played pretty well and has also made it known to Capello that he wants to be in the England squad this summer. He capitalised on a defensive error and rounded Hart with ease and always looked a threat throughout the game. Tottenham are most definitely title challengers because they have players like Gareth Bale who can rip apart any team in the world with his direct running and incredible pace, when the Welshman gets going he is hard to stop. His goal was sublime and no keeper in the world would have saved it and then he showed all of his abilities in the last few minutes to run rings round the City defence and then square the ball for Defoe who agonisingly missed the ball by inches. Seconds later Balotelli won a penalty and scored it but earlier in the game he probably should have been sent off for a stamp however the referee must not have seen it clearly as he stayed on the pitch and ended up winning the game. When they went 2-0 up they must have thought the game was up after David Silva had shown yet again that he is one of the best players in the league by putting Samir Nasri through with an inch perfect through ball that Nasri finished clinically. But champions win games when it’s not looking likely which has now happened twice in a row with the result against Spurs and the 1-0 win against Wigan.

However, do not discount Manchester United just yet, as they pulled off another victory when they weren’t at their best. The first half they were comfortable and looked like the only team in the game but in the second half when Arsenal picked up the game they had to defend stoutly and remain resilient which they did and if it wasn’t for Van Persie’s brilliance then they probably would have kept a clean sheet although that same player missed an absolute sitter after a mistake from Chris Smalling. The difference in the game was the manager’s decision making as Fergie’s changes changed the game positively for the team, firstly bringing on Rafael for the injured Phil Jones which allowed Valencia to be at the back post to put them ahead, then taking off Rafael for Park Ji Sung so Valencia dropped back to right back and set up the all important goal for United.

Welbeck scored the winner and his partnership with Wayne Rooney is starting to look really promising and this can only be a good thing for club and country. He was making a lot of runs behind the defence looking for through balls while Rooney was dropping deep and looking to slide it through for him. Maybe he won’t be top of the list to start at the Euros but he is definitely one for the future but if he keeps performing and scoring big goals he may just find himself in the starting 11.

At the end of the day it is Manchester 2-0 London and with the way things are looking this trend could continue for a while to come. However, it is refreshing to see all four of the top teams like to play attacking football and I think Tottenham under Redknapp will continue to improve and could possibly break Manchester’s dominance at the very top of the league and maybe even win the trophy. But if the England job becomes available will he stay at Spurs or answer the call from the FA? Will Tottenham be as good under a different manager?

England’s right back for the Euros

When Liverpool played Manchester City in the Carling Cup it gave England fans the opportunity to see two players aiming to be England’s starting right back at Euro 2012 with Glen Johnson being switched to left back for the tie and Micah Richards playing in his usual right back position.

Both players have played plenty of times for England and will be hoping to impress Fabio Capello in the coming months to show why they should be one of the first names on the team sheet. Glen Johnson seems the favourite at the minute for Capello but may not be the fans’ choice. Everyone that watches Johnson play knows he is good going forward but at times looks suspect at the back and even though in the modern game full backs need to be good going forward, their primary role in the team is to stop the opposition scoring.

Micah Richards must feel hard done by as he broke into the England team a number of years ago and seemed to be the natural successor to Gary Neville but for some reason he lost his way on the international scene. But his team are top of the table and have one of the best defences in the league so surely he deserves another shot. Like Johnson, very good at going forward and is probably one of the strongest and quickest players in the Premier League which allows him to get back into position quickly after making a break forward.

While this game was being played, Kyle Walker of Tottenham was helping his team keep a clean sheet at home to Everton and is proving to everyone why Harry Redknapp made him his first choice right back at the start of the season. Scoring a wonderful goal against Arsenal obviously made the Spurs fans love him but he is most certainly catching the eye of Capello. His loan move to Aston Villa last season has done him the world of good and he would be disappointed if he wasn’t selected.

Danny Simpson has an outside chance of making the trip to Ukraine and Poland because he has been in good form for club side Newcastle but it isn’t looking very likely at this stage. But he is proving to be one of the best right backs in the country and if the players above him in the pecking order suffer an injury or go on a poor run of form, he would do a solid job for the team.

Other options for Capello are to play Chris Smalling, Phil Jones or Phil Jagielka at right back as all of these have played in that position at some stage in their career but all three of them are better centre halves than right backs. Although, their versatility could work in their favour, it is unlikely that they will get played at right back ahead of Walker, Richards or Johnson.

Verdict: Micah Richards should be England’s first choice right back as he is currently stand in captain for the team that is top of the league and is looking very impressive, his marauding runs forward cause panic in the oppositions defence due to his sheer size and presence therefore he adds something completely different to the team.

But who will Capello choose?

Newcastle United vs Manchester United- Head to head battles

This result could prove to be very pivotal in both teams seasons with Newcastle only winning one of their last eight after starting the season with an 11 game unbeaten run and Manchester United now losing two games in a row and conceding six goals in the process. This isn’t very Manchester United like and the performance against Newcastle further highlighted the need for strengthening at Old Trafford with the Toon Army having firstly more drive and determination but also more skill and ability.

Demba Ba was a constant threat and should have had a penalty when he was blatantly took out by Rio Ferdinand in the box but this probably evens out what happened earlier in the season when Newcastle won a penalty against Ferdinand which was clearly a mistake by the officials.

The first two Newcastle goals were through a little bit of individual quality and they had clearly watched Manchester United’s previous game against Blackburn where they also looked suspect at the back. Newcastle deserved their emphatic victory as they had more shots and even under slight pressure they held strong and only really looked like conceding once or twice.

As a team, Newcastle won the battle obviously as the stats suggest but what about the individuals.

Krul vs Lindegaard

Krul didn’t have much to do in the game but has proved time and time again this season that he is valuable to the squad and that goalkeeper’s are so important in this league and can win you points almost singlehandedly in some games. He dealt with everything that was thrown at him quite comfortably apart from one Nani shot in the first half which he didn’t take cleanly but recovered quickly enough to get control of the loose ball.

Lindegaard must be quite a confused man this morning, conceding three goals, yet he also didn’t have much to do. The first two goals were unstoppable and even if him and De Gea had been in goal it still would have been 2-0 Newcastle. He does not look convincing though and when put under pressure he could struggle with Williamson putting a header over the bar after he came for a corner and got nowhere near it. Also, a worrying part of his game is his communication with his defenders which was shown when Phil Jones put the ball into the back of his own net.

Winner= Tim Krul

Simpson vs Valencia

This may have been Danny Simpson’s best performance in the Premier League for the Magpies as he attacked very well and attempted to support Ryan Taylor whenever he could, although his final ball at times was poor. But it was his defending that was most impressive especially after his shocking performance against Liverpool, he was strong in the tackle and his positioning for the most part was spot on. His goal line clearance was celebrated like a goal by the team and so it should have been because if the team from Manchester had scored then we would probably have been looking at a different result.

Got to feel sorry for Valencia, he isn’t a right back but always puts in a good shift wherever he is told to play and was no different in this game. He always looked to get forward and was probably their most attacking threat. Like Simpson his final ball let him down but his work rate, getting up and down the wing time and time again was commendable.

Winner= Danny Simpson

Santon vs Evra

Davide Santon was signed with quite a big reputation from Inter Milan but couldn’t seem to shift Ryan Taylor a makeshift left back from the team and a lot of fans were wondering is this guy the real deal or just another flop we have signed from Europe? Based on his performance last night you can see why he was highly rated by every Inter manager apart from Mourinho. But like most fullbacks these days he is better at going forward than defending producing jinking runs and alleviating the pressure on him and his fellow defenders with his ability to keep the ball. Performed well against Nani who is quite a tricky customer when he is on his game.

Patrice Evra, this season for me does not look as solid as he has done in previous seasons and this was shown again at times as he got beaten for pace by Ryan Taylor and allowed him space to cross time and time again which the central defenders won’t have been too happy with. He was given the captains armband but I don’t understand why, he doesn’t not seem influential or inspiring as captain at all. Going forward he didn’t really have a chance and this is the best part of his game. Poor performance but will surely before the end of the season prove he is one of the best left backs in Europe.

Winner= Davide Santon

Williamson vs Jones

Just back from injury, Williamson adds much needed height and power to the Newcastle defence especially after the injury to Steven Taylor which ruled him out for the rest of the season. He sometimes looks suspect when dealing with a bit of pace and movement but he does win a lot of aerial battles and can tackle when he gets the chance. Also, he gives the team another attacking threat from set pieces, missing a simple chance in the process but he will be happier with the way he and his fellow defenders snuffed out the threat from the opposition.

Phil Jones there is no doubt about it, is one of the most promising young players currently in England with his ability to play in several different positions. But he played centre back against Newcastle and was given a lesson from Shola Ameobi and Demba Ba. He could not deal with their power and pace. Losing the first header in the first goal and giving away the free kick for the second. For the third, he probably wished the ground would open up and swallow him after a breakdown in communication with his keeper, he went to header the ball but misjudged it and it his knee and went into the back of the net. A night to forget for the young lad but he will prove to be a very good signing for United.

Winner= Williamson

Coloccini vs Ferdinand

‘Captain Colo’ has been in fantastic form this season and never looks flustered under pressure producing moments of magic the most attacking players would be proud of. He didn’t get much of a chance to maraud forward as much as he likes to from centre back but it is his defending that has improved dramatically since he first arrived in Newcastle. He is quick along the ground and seems to see danger very quickly to get across and clear for his team. It’s not just luck that he seems to be in the right place at the right time over and over again. His curly locks in his first season were noticeable for his mistakes but now everyone not only notices his flamboyant hair but his abilities as a top class central defender.

Rio Ferdinand was very lucky not to give away a penalty after a tangle of legs in the box and this just typified his night. He didn’t seem to be at the races almost gifting a goal to Demba Ba after a poor first touch, he could not deal with the strikers just like his much younger and less experienced partner Phil Jones couldn’t. But surely we expect better from the man that is hoping to lead England’s defence at Euro 2012 (if John Terry is banned for racism then surely he can’t play for England? But this is an issue for another time). He just didn’t look his normal composed self at the back and maybe it’s because he is getting older or maybe it’s because he doesn’t have any confidence in his goalkeeper and players either side of him. Not all his fault but should have been tighter on Ba for the first goal.

Winner= Coloccini

Taylor vs Nani

Ryan Taylor is fast becoming a cult hero for the Toon Army with his impressive displays at left back and obviously his winning goal in the Tyne Wear Derby against Sunderland. But he played on the right of midfield and he was energetic and full of life always asking for the ball and most of the time keeping good possession. He provided Simpson with a lot of support and was a very hardworking performance from the Scouser. His set pieces were always a threat as usual causing panic in the Manchester United defence from his corners.

Nani didn’t have his best game in a United shirt but it was down the right hand side that they caused the most threat but still he couldn’t produce a moment of magic to unlock the Newcastle defence. A couple of good runs and little flashes of skill were just not good enough but at least he did try a few different things. He seemed to stay on the wing for much of the game and maybe should have drifted inside more but if he did that and didn’t cause problems he would have been slated as well and told to stay out wide. So maybe it just wasn’t his night and he was fighting a losing battle

Winner= Ryan Taylor

Gutierrez vs Park

As always the Argentinean did his job and worked hard winning free kicks for his team in tight positions and covering every blade of grass down the left hand side. Sometimes his final ball lets him down and going forward he can be frustrating but that is all forgiven when the fans see him working hard and at times running the length of the pitch to get back just so he can give extra support to his teammates which not every winger is willing to do. He is nothing more than an average player but he is worth his weight in gold and Newcastle are very glad they have him.

Park is similar to Gutierrez always works hard for the cause but he doesn’t seem to get as much credit probably because being a Manchester United player you need more than just hard work but Park doesn’t seem to offer anymore. Possibly only still at the club because of the financial side of the game as he will bring even more money in from Asia for the champions. Maybe this is a little harsh on Park but from his performance he does not look good enough for a team wanting to win the league.

Winner= Jonas Gutierrez

Cabaye vs Giggs

A fantastic free kick capped off a fine performance, was an absolute steal for Newcastle when they signed him from Lille. His passing has been a vital part to the way Newcastle play with his ability to accurately send cross field to passes to the winger on the opposite side. Against Man United he played slightly differently to normal as he looked to break forward a lot more and get into the box, having a few shots which he is capable of hitting with both power and accuracy with either foot. But his free kick will be remembered by the Geordie faithful for quite a long time. He could be in the running for signing of the season but unfortunately for him and fantastically for the Newcastle scouting team who deserve huge amounts of credit he probably hasn’t even been Newcastle’s best signing. He has a great partnership with Tiote but even earlier in the season when Tiote was injured he formed a good partnership with Danny Guthrie so it just proves his quality and his ability to adapt his game to whoever is playing alongside him.

The Welshman for the first time actually looked his age against Newcastle, dominated by the opposition and unable to produce any magic we still expect from him. Playing in the centre of midfield he looked a shadow of his former self and this may be down to the performance of the Newcastle centre midfield. Maybe it’s time to call it a day although against a less pressurising team he could still do a job for United but it may be better just to play him in the home games. In my opinion Paul Scholes could have had more of an impact on a game like this if he was still playing.

Winner= Yohan Cabaye

Tiote vs Carrick

Cheick Tiote will be a massive miss now he has going to the Africa Cup of Nations and it’s not just coincidence that when he got injured Newcastle went on a winless run. Last season he was constantly criticised for the amount of bookings he picked up and yes he did get booked yesterday but it was one that goes in the category of had to be done for the team. Which is what Tiote is all about, everything he does benefits the team and is another fantastic acquisition for Newcastle. He is so strong and his ability on the ball is definitely underrated. He gets about the pitch and does all of the dirty work closing down the opposition and making tackles so the more attacking players can play their natural game. It’s not surprising he is linked with the biggest teams in Europe and if Newcastle are ambitious and want to progress they have to keep hold of their holding midfielder

Another holding midfielder but plays very differently to Tiote, he is more of a passer than a tackler although he doesn’t mind getting stuck in at all. The game seemed to pass him by and as a Geordie probably wanted to perform at St James’ Park but this wasn’t great and is probably glad Fabio Capello does not come up to the North East to watch football or it could have reduced his chances of going to the Euros. Although he is a player who’s work often goes unnoticed, in this game he was invisible and lacked the needed quality to break down this resilient Newcastle team and is further proof that Fergie needs to invest in a central midfielder. Maybe players like Cabaye and Tiote would be good signings.

Winner= Cheick Tiote

Ameobi vs Berbatov

Shola Ameobi affectionately known as the ‘Sunderland Slayer’ by the Geordies had arguably one of his best games in a Newcastle shirt, he caused a threat every time the ball was in the air and won a large majority of flick ons to his teammates. He is often criticised because of his lack of ability but he made up for it with his determination and movement. He won the flick for the first goal and then dragged the defender out of position so Demba Ba could attack the space and win the free kick that led to the second. Shola along with the other strikers will have to step up to the plate in the next month with Ba away on international duty but this performance should give the fans some hope.

Simply anonymous. Hit the post with a deflected header in the first half and was then substituted in the second. That’s about it for his performance which is quite disappointing seen as though he was on a good run of form. Just couldn’t get into the game and didn’t look interested although with his languid style even at the best of times he doesn’t look that interested

Winner= Shola Ameobi

Ba vs Rooney

What more is there to say about this man? He has such fantastic ability on the ball but it was his hard work that impressed me most , he chased down everything and led from the front in not giving any Manchester United player time to settle on the ball. But, his goal showed how good of a player he is, what fantastic technique to hit the ball first time like that and it finding the corner of the net. He is a constant menace and seems to be scoring goals for fun and for a free transfer surely must be the signing of the season. Fans wondered where the goals were going to come from and how would they replace Andy Carroll. Demba Ba has stepped up and surpassed even the most optimistic fans expectations. It’s not surprising fans and pundits are running out of superlatives to describe his season. It’s just unfortunate not only for the Newcastle fans but also the Premier League that his season is being disrupted by the African Cup of Nations.

Wayne Rooney was not at the races at all, and it was clear to see when he was played through and his touch let him down, it was a chance he would usually gobble up, especially against Newcastle, who he has such a good record against. Substituted for Anderson and this basically emphasises how bad of a night it was for the England striker, losing by two goals and taking off a player that is usually feared by every defender in the country. With him not playing against Blackburn it seemed to be written in the script that he would be influential in the game but this was ripped up and never happened.

Winner= Demba Ba

Newcastle won the battles all over the pitch and although ability wise they may not have the same quality as their Manchester counterparts but they made up for it in deteremination and desire to win the game. Huge praise has to go to Alan Pardew because not many managers over the years have got one over Sir Alex Ferguson tactically. He called it perfectly, and got everything spot on, he wasn’t wanted at Newcastle to begin with but now the fans see him as one of them, if he can secure European football he will probably be considered their best manager since the great Sir Bobby Robson