There is an old saying, “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” which pinpoints Manchester United’s faulty defending.
A lot of talk is being made about all of the goals that United has been leaking this season, and rightfully so, but the problem does not just lay with the defenders.
What some of these critics are failing to realize and understand, is that teams defend from the front to the back, and that is not there with United this season.
The highly-criticized Wayne Rooney – amongst others – have needlessly gave the ball away in the attacking-third, which has allowed other teams to counter attack with numbers.
Sir Alex Ferguson should be used to this type of gameplan from other managers, because it has been going on for quite sometime.
However, he needs to adjust his way of thinking, because now the lower-level clubs are able to spend a bit more to bring in a couple of quality attack-minded players, which has been made available because of the huge television and other contracts that Barclays Premier League has secured.
In the build up to the Bolton match, Owen Coyle more than likely preached and instilled patience into the mindset of his players.
But full credit needs to be given to his players as they carried out his mission, because as the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot force them to drink,” and the Bolton players defied that logic and fully deserved their point.
On countless occasions, Ferguson has stated that United need to get more goals from their midfielders, but what he may not have realized is that it would leave gaps between the midfield and defense.
Ferguson has instilled faith, pride and trust in his defenders to keep clean sheets, but the confidence that he has for them seems to be falling on deaf ears, because they do not have confidence in one another.
With Ferguson telling the midfielders to attack more, United are way more susceptible at the back.
When when they are in advanced positions, the midfielders are unable to make the necessary recovery runs, which would ultimately protect and keep the back-four intact.
The full-backs – John O’Shea and Patrice Evra – are also bumming forward to be involved with the United attack, which will not only lead to fatigue over the course of the season, but it will also leave them out of position when it comes to doing the job that they are being paid to do.
There is nothing wrong with them getting forward on occasion, because more options are sometimes needed when it is required to break teams down, but on every single possession it is not helpful – especially when United is in the lead.
Evra and O’Shea are constantly making either overlapping runs or darting through the middle, which against teams with decent wingers – like Bolton had with Martin Petrov and Chung-Yong Lee – they are left scrambling to get back.
Also, Darren Fletcher is always going forward – probably on the advice of the coaches – to assist the United attack, which is leaving only Scholes in the middle of the field to track the runs of younger, faster midfielders.
Scholes, who has probably been our best player all season long, but he does not have the ability to track back, which is why he is continuously criticized for making the clumsy tackles and picking up bookings.
Let’s face it and be fair to him, Scholes is in no way a holding, box-to-box midfielder – never has been and never will be – which Ferguson needs to realize this because he does not know how to properly track a run and make a honest tackle, either.
Another thing that let United down against Bolton was the distribution of Edwin van der Sar, because the opposite holds true as well.
The first line of your attack starts with normally your goalkeeper, which is why van der Sar’s accurate clearances are vital to the United attack as well.
VDS is still one of the best organizers of the back-four in the game, but he also is very accurate with his distribution of the ball, which sometimes goes unnoticed and against Bolton he was hurried on numerous occasions.
Despite the cries of some fans for Sir Alex to guy some over-priced midfielder, that is not either the short or long-term solution, because what is needed is for members of the current squad to recover from their respective injuries.
Both Owen Hargreaves and Anderson have been out for quite a long time, and, hopefully, they are both hopefully on their way to becoming fully fit.
These two players offer both speed and sheer athleticism to the United midfield, and when fit, Hargreaves or Anderson should be a no-brainer to be included in the starting XI.
If they are not fit, then O’Shea should be shifted into the middle of the park to help provide cover.
O’Shea is an attack-minded player from his youth days, which he tries to relive while playing right-back, but when he is serving as a holding midfielder, he does a wonderful job providing cover for the back-four.
With the Irish national team, O’Shea plays his preferred center-back position, so he is a naturally center-of-the-field minded player, which is not being utilized by Ferguson.
During the final stretch during the 2005/06 season, Ferguson matched-up him and Ryan Giggs through the center of the midfield, and they made a formidable run at trying to catch Chelsea at the top of the table.
Against Everton, O’Shea played in the center of the midfield as well and United were up comfortably 3-1 and then Ferguson brought Ji-Sung Park on for Evra, and it forced O’Shea to left-back.
Whether it was a coincidence or not, United did let in two goals in stoppage-time after that strange tactical move.
There is no reason as to why Ferguson could not flank Scholes and Fletcher in front of O’Shea through the middle of the field.
With everything said, Manchester United are still second place a the very competitive top-to-bottom Barclays Premier League, but if the Red Devils aspire to win the trophy, then they will need to shore up their team defending.