Date:Thursday April 3 2008
United have conceded 15 goals in 32 league games this season. Our incredible defensive solidity is mainly down to the magnificent central pair of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
Now that one of them is out for at least two weeks and three games (Middlesbrough, Roma, Arsenal) we must consider what the candidates to replace him have to offer.
I think we can safely ignore Mikael Silvestre, after all, he's just returned from injury. Hasn't played a competitive game since September, it would be a huge surprise if he was given a substitute appearance let alone a starting role.
Gerard Pique is a very talented player with excellent physical attributes and good positioning. But he's inexperienced and a tad slow - it would be a huge gamble to thrust him into the limelight at such a crucial stage of the campaign.
Therefore, for me, it's really between John O'Shea and Wesley Brown. The former was excellent in Rome and the latter did an unexpectedly solid job all season - at right back.
Brown is probably a bit quicker and has a greater leap. On the other hand, his footballing brain is inferior to that of O'Shea - and I do not try to imply that the Irishman's intelligence compares to that of Zidane or even of Ferdinand. His positioning and understanding of the game is slightly superior to Brown's, that's all.
It looks likely that one of them will replace Vidic for these three games and the other will continue at right-back. However, there is one possible solution that must be looked at.
Many, myself included, feel that playing O'Shea and Brown alongside each other is a bit of a risk. Both of them are fine as full-backs if Rio and Vidic do that excellent job of theirs in the centre. But if both have to be included, the stability and the balance of the back four could be seriously undermined.
So I suggest that we deploy either Brown or O'Shea alongside Rio and play an energetic, quick, hard-tackling player at right-back. That player would be Owen Hargreaves who I believe could help us out at this stage. His credentials as a defensive midfielder are obvious and I often stated that he should start the big games but Scholes, Anderson and Carrick can all do a fine job in those games that we have until Vidic can return.
Of course, it's only a possible solution, nothing else. I'm not certain what should be done and it's far from certain what Fergie will do. It's best to leave it to him though.
Date:Thursday April 3 2008
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