Manchester United – no first-choice center backs, no problem?

It’s April, the season is coming to a head, there’s a United-Chelsea game ahead that could decide the season as United do their best to hold off Chelsea for the Premier League title. There’s a crucial Champions League game coming up at Old Trafford. United have just drawn away at Riverside, a game they probably would have lost, and lost Rio to injury. Nemanja Vidic is injured. No Saha to give us an extra angle of attack up front. Neville is probably not fit enough to start so either O’Shea or a midfielder will have to slot in the right-back post as Brown moves to center-back.

It’s April 2007 – will United lose after coming so close?

Ah yes. Last season. No Vidic, no Rio, no Neville. Heinze and Brown at center-back. Giggs, Rooney and Ronaldo being our only creative outlets. Defensively weak. Offensively crippled. How would this team play?

Not too bad, actually.

Last year, United came up against Milan in the first leg of their semi-final and it was Kaka v United as the home side won 3-2. A tough game for United’s defence, but certainly much better than the insipid performance that came in the 2nd leg. In the domestic league though, United shined and come through in crucial away games, especially that Everton game that probably decided the domestic title.

This week, United play Roma at home in the second leg of their quarter-final, with no Rio or Vidic at the back. They have an advantage of 2 away goals but at this point that is slim pickings considering that both Brown and Pique are in for a start as center backs. Then there’s the revenge game at Old Trafford against Arsenal, an away game against Blackburn (could it be Everton all over again for us?) and then the big Chelsea game. In between we’ll probably play one leg of the CL semis as well, assuming we negotiate past Roma safely.

We should be worried. It’s the worst possible time to lose your center backs, and any further injuries in training or during a game will leave this side woefully exposed.

Except that this is exactly the sort of situations that we’ve been facing throughout the years – and more often than not, this side has come up trumps. Against Roma, United might line up like this:

Starting XI: van der Sar, O’Shea, Brown, Pique, Evra, Ronaldo, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Tevez, Rooney
Bench (alternative): Kuszczak, Neville, Silvestre, Hargreaves, Anderson, Park, Nani

And I’d back that team to beat Roma at Old Trafford. Sure, we will concede a goal, but this lineup will definitely put away a couple of goals and that should be enough to take United to the semi-finals and to the record of 11 straight home wins in the Champions League.

We’ve been here before. We’ve DONE it before. After running themselves into the ground all season, players like Ronaldo, Rooney and Brown will have to lift their game and be leaders for another month or so. No excuses – this team is good enough to cross the finish line top of the table.

And of course, like last year, we should have Vidic and Rio back by May, so what’s there to worry about? 🙂

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