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Manchester United 08/09 Season Review – Part III: The Defence

Fortress

In our concluding part of the three part series on our 2008/09 season we take a look at the most important component of our campaign — the defence. A glance at our earlier two parts would give the impression that we’ve been a middling side — with players averaging about 7. The defence would paint a much better picture mirroring the real reason behind our success.

It must be noted, at this point, that a lot of the ratings are taking into account an excellent season, although there may be a tendency among many to chop off a few points off players due to the Champions’ League defeat playing in the minds. It is but natural, but looking at the greater picture of the season, we must try to not let the defeat make an overwhelming impact in our assessment — it surely has an impact, but it shouldn’t be the defining one.

Gary Neville:

A captain who’s been ceremonial in duty and, much as it pains me to say, in performance. Another member of Ferguson’s favoured old guard, he was blighted by injuries and in matches he got a run, he’s not come even close to the full back who used to function as an ancillary winger. And it’s not his fault entirely that the manager continued to pick him. Ferguson’s loyalty is well known, and it works both ways for the Scot. The manager, for his part, tried to give him a run so that he could prove himself. His heart certainly can’t be faulted, but his body continues to fail him. And for that purpose alone, he should be honest with himself, hold his hand up and accept a more diminished role in the club; he spoke recently about a foray into coaching. I think he must concentrate on that and act as a mentor to the up and coming players like Rafael.

Rating: 5.5/10

Patrice Evra:

He was one of the best left backs in the world coming into the season. But today, that may well be debated. Well, he may yet be among the best left backs in the world because there aren’t too many to compete for the honours. 2008/09 was a strange season for Evra. He was good early on, and then served a 4 match ban in December/January. One would think that sort of a rest during a gruelling campaign would work wonders. Well, when he returned against Chelsea, he had a very good game before limping off. But after returning from injury, he seemed well off the pace. He seemed to be neither far up the pitch nor in position to defend. His poor positioning put our defence under enormous pressure on several occasions. In attack, he fell short when it came to providing the final ball or cross. He either got too cute — giving the ball away in the process — or his crosses ended up in row Z. It was a below par season for him compared to his previous season. He’s capable of much better than he showed us this season. Hopefully it was all an aberration.

Rating: 6.5/10

John O’Shea:

I wrote an article on Oct 2007, on why we love John O’Shea. And I still find myself nodding while reading it. I think he — like Fletcher — can do a job when called upon without the whingeing and drama queen attitude we see more of these days. During our record breaking defensive run, there was no Rio Ferdinand (well hardly), and O’Shea did have a more than significant part to play right through the course of the season. Right back, check. Centre half, check. Left back, check. He’ll do the job for us without embarrassing himself, and his importance cannot be more overstated.

Rating: 7/10

Jonathan Evans:

This was a big season for the lad. He was unruffled by the pressure and demands of the league. Also he shook off the nerves that accompany being a part of a big club. The physicality he could handle; the loan spell at Sunderland helped. But the demands and expectations of a Manchester United centre back could daunt even the best. He’s had his share of gaffes — the poor clearance against Porto, and some other lapses in concentration stick out. But for a 21 year old centre back, the future is indeed very bright for the Northern Irishman.

Rating: 7.5/10

Rafael da Silva:

One player who brought much excitement to me personally whenever he played. He was the surprise package. I never expected the Brazilian twins to break into the first team as early as they did. A run in the reserves convinced Fergie to rely on Sir Matt Busby’s words: ‘If your good enough, you’re old enough’. That, and the fact we were hit by injuries at the start of our season. His highlight reel would undoubtedly contain that goal against Arsenal at the Emirates. Still, he is 18, nothing to get carried away by. He shows a lot of promise, as would most talented young players. But will he step it up next season? He has the ingredients that makes a good full back — aggression, good going forward, stamina. He needs to work on his positioning, but then he’s young… you get the drift.

Rating: 7/10

Ben Foster:

His injury proneness is a worry. You don’t want the goal keeper of the future to become the second coming of Louis Saha. His best game was against Spurs in the Carling Cup final. He showed glimpses of what he can offer us. But he’s 26 and needs to get games if we are really to assess how good he really is. There isn’t much I can really gauge from his appearances this season, so I won’t give him a rating.

Edwin van der Sar:

Again, whilst being a decent keeper, he is still prone to indecisiveness and there is an argument that could be made about our defensive record being thanks to our back four. But concentration is a much more important attribute in a goal keeper of a big club because they have to be prepared to wait long minutes without having to make saves. And while he’s been alright, we could do with a better ‘keeper. At 39 it is about time.

Rating: 7.5/10

Rio Ferdinand:

A season blighted by a troublesome back, and an assorted collection of calf and groin injuries. Yet, did well, although not on the same level as the highs of the season before. Yet, I think he’s been better than a lot of people give him credit for, partly because of the blinding form of his partner.

Rating: 8.5/10

Nemanja Vidic:

Fantastic. Mind blowing. Murderous. And add a few more superlatives. (Torres/Eto’o were blurs) Fergie would be absolutely mad if he were to sell him by any chance — would be worse than selling Stam.

Rating: 9.5/10

Honourable mentions go out to Fabio da Silva for his eye catching debut before he limped off to another frustrating injury. But if he stays fit and his exploits in the reserves are something to go by, he will give Evra a real run next season.

And that concludes part III of our season review. Hope you enjoyed it.

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