Following their blistering start to the season Manchester United’s recent games have begun to highlight their defensive problems. Whilst bedding in a new goal-keeper makes any team somewhat vulnerable defensively, David De Gea has not been helped by the ease at which teams have breached the defensive lines in front of him.
Currently, he has made the highest number of saves (32) in the league, giving him a saves/shots ratio of 86%. Against Stoke and Basel, United should have lost but as they have done over the years, they found a way to escape with some points.
The absence of talisman Wayne Rooney and Tom Cleverley has stunted their attacking play and shifted more focus onto their defensive capabilities.
Without Rooney, United lack the drive and spark upfront and in the middle of the pitch Cleverley’s absence is being felt. Of course it would be foolhardy to paint young Tom as their saviour – he is in his first season as a first-team member – but it is noticeable how well Anderson has played beside him.
The Guardian Chalkboard below demonstrates a feature of the Brazilian’s play that has been missing since Cleverley’s injury.
Against Stoke, United’s midfield did not give Ashley Young and Nani the same service they recieved in the early part of the season. As a result, play broke down and United, without an effective linkman between midfield and attack, lost the ball 16 times (5.9 per minute) compared with Stoke’s 12 times (7.9 per minute).
Norwich will be looking to take advantage of this to try and create opportunities from the middle of the park. At the Brittania Stadium, Anderson and Darren Fletcher faced Rory Delap and Glenn Whelan in midfield but they failed to impose themselves well.
On Tuesday, Phil Jones had his poorest match in a United shirt so far. As a ball-playing defender, his preference to play his way out of trouble (his pass to Antonio Valencia led to the penalty) and go on marauding runs can be exploited by the opposition if the rest of the defence is not on the same wavelength.
The good news for United is there is a possibility Rooney will be available against Norwich and should he play, he will link up well with Welbeck. However, a strong defensive display will be needed with the Canaries full on confidence following their two consecutive wins in the league.