Sir Alex Ferguson has made adjustments to correct the leaks in the Manchester United defense, but he obviously twisted his wrench a bit too far.
After securing back-to-back shutouts away from Old Trafford – both in Europe and domestically – the issue now is clearly going forward, which pinpoints the problem that has been plaguing them all season: the midfield.
As stated before when United were giving up away goals at alarming rate, the midfield were pushing too far forward to assist with the attack, which, unsurprisingly, left the back-four exposed.
Yes, the presence and partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have helped tremendously with helping to get clean sheets in the last two games, but the balance of the midfield is been completely off.
Against Valencia, Sir Alex Ferguson went with three center midfielders – Anderson, Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick – and he opted to keep the same formation against Sunderland, but replaced the latter with Paul Scholes.
That change did little to influence the match, because United were still put on the back foot against a more energetic, willing Sunderland midfield.
Lee Cattermole, Steed Malbranque and Boudewijn Zenden did their part to more than match their counterparts and it showed in the opening 45 minutes as Sunderland dictated the play.
This is somewhat concerning, because under Sir Alex, the core strength of United has always been the consistent play of the midfielders.
Sir Alex has always had classy midfielders like Bryan Robson, Paul Ince and Roy Keane that could always inspire United players to fight from the depths of a defeat or to get a decisive goal when the game is heading for a draw, but now the manager evidently does not have one at his disposal.
Scholes is a player than can bring a calming influence to his teammates, but he does not have the speed or the ability to inspire his teammates with a hard-nosed challenge.
His long-range passing was far from its glowing best, and when he is struggling to pick a teammate out with a defense-splitting pass then United’s attack dips.
Fletcher is seen as a player that can deny and harass top opposition midfielders with his non-stop play, but against inferior players he lacks the creativeness to spring a United attack.
Definitely not known for his passing, Fletcher attempts to use his endless running to try to energize his teammates, and against the same-type of players, he becomes a bit lost.
Anderson is coming back after a long layoff from a serious knee injury and he definitely seems apprehensive making some of his runs.
With that being said, the reason he was played over Carrick is because of dealing with the very combative Cattermole, and to be fair, Anderson did a good job winning some of the battles.
The three-man midfield against Sunderland also showed the lack of balance in the squad.
With both Ryan Giggs and Antonio Valencia out injured, and Gabriel Obertan deemed not to be match-fit yet, Ferguson was forced to field Michael Owen and Federico Macheda in rotating role between being the lone striker or out on the left flank.
This caused Sunderland to rip and roar down the left-flank and continually pump balls into the box, which Ferdinand, and especially Vidic did well to deal with.
John O’Shea is not known for his speed and was forced to deal with very speedy Ahmed El Mohamady without any help and it encouraged the Sunderland right-back Nedum Onuoha to get forward as well.
This unfairly took Owen away from the position, which makes him a very valuable asset to United, and ultimately led to him to be withdrawn at half-time.
With the balance of the midfield clearly needing adjustment, Sir Alex opted to bring on more central-minded players with Javier Hernandez and Bebe being introduce for Macheda and Anderson, respectively.
What Ferguson should have done, is introduce the left-footed, attack-minded Patrice Evra for Anderson, which would have balanced out the problems and helped United attack down the left.
That was clearly the achilles heel for Sunderland, because Vidic made two driving runs down that wing, which resulted in a free-kick and a corner.
So just imagine what a pacey full-back/midfielder would have done against Sunderland’s right-back, Nedum Onuoha!
A point from an away game after an European away match is always a good result – but for a club like Manchester United that competes for trophies should not be viewed as acceptable.