The start of the season has come and gone, early season jitters and cobwebs have been overcome, and the team is playing with speed, creativity, attacking intent, fluency and stability. We look threatening in front of goal, and the midfield is producing performances to win games. The defense and wingers will no doubt improve with minutes on the clock, and the goalkeeping situation will no doubt sort itself out over time.
What does bother me, however, is that one of our main defensive players, Rio Ferdinand, has missed more than half of our last 50 games and is picking up slight niggles and injuries all too frequently. Turning 31 at the beginning of next month, Nov 7, his health and fitness are no doubt vital to United's defensive stability, regardless of his costly and highly publicized error in the Manchester Derby. Lower back problems are particularly troublesome, with Rio's problems causing tightness in the closely connected muscles, hamstrings, abductors, adductors and calf muscles. Such problems can have long term side-effects, lead to permanent hip and knee problems and make walking tremendously painful. Such a serious soft tissue problem needs careful management and treatment. The club should be thinking longer term, and give Rio a few months to cure himself of the problem, either through surgery or some form of treatment, instead of managing the problem to make sure he can play regularly.
Coupled with Jonny Evans' ankle problems, which the public now knows, needs surgery, Rio's fitness is imperative given the lack of quality,experienced, fit central defensive cover.
The rest of our defensive line is Vidic, Evra, O'Shea, Brown, Neville, Rafael, Fabio and De Laet. Wes Brown and John O'Shea are without doubt good players who can do the job, but over the course of a long season, O'Shea cannot be everywhere all the time, and Brown has his own fitness problems to deal with. Our first choice defense this season is without doubt, O'Shea Ferdinand Vidic Evra. When required, Evans has slotted into centre back to take one of Ferdinand or Vidic's place. In the Carling Cup, we played Neville Brown Evans and Fabio/de Laet against Wolves, and we can also use O'Shea as a centre back or left back, use Brown as a right back or centre back, as well as Neville similarly, and shuffle the pack accordingly. This gives Sir Alex alot of options, but if we were to take both Rio and Evans out of the defensive roster, 10 becomes 8, 6 centrebacks becomes 4, of which only 3 are natural centre backs( Vidic, O'Shea and Brown). But when our young right backs (Rafael, Fabio and De Laet) are inexperienced, lack the neccesary defensive qualities and are often caught out of position, and with Gary Neville fighting the sands of time while shaking off injuries, one of Brown or O'Shea are needed to play at Right Back in the big games, which means there would be no cover at Centre back.
So do we simply go out and splash the cash on another Centre back? Do we get Bolton's Gary Cahill, who is 23, would be an ideal partner for Evans in the future, but keeping a player of his talent and potential happy as defensive cover could prove difficult.
Another option could be to recall Craig Cathcart from Plymouth Argyle, where he has been out on loan, and attempt to accelerate his development and intergrate him into the 1st team squad so as to acclimatize him to the pace, power and physicality, not to mention the technical requirements of the Premier League.
Either way, both Rio and Jonny need to rest and recuperate properly, and i'd rather loose them now to make sure they are fit and firing for the new year, when the going gets tough.