Earlier this season we took a look at the possible defensive starters for Manchester United. At the time we noted that
“[Sir Alex Ferguson] will now be faced with the possibility of starting 4 players on his back line who’ve less than a full season of minutes for United under their belt.”
At that time there were injuries to Rafael, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinanad to contend with. The news from Old Trafford today, 9 December 2011, is that Vidic is likely finished for the season after sustaining a ruptured cruciate ligament in the 2-1 loss to Basel in the Champions League. Hundred of thousands of words have already been written and published on the injury to this point but we wanted to examine not only the impact that Vidic has had on United this season but to look back at what we wrote in August about the depth of the current squad.
Patrice Evra has come forward to take responsibility for his own poor performances this season, but he remains the first choice left back for the Red Devils. Obviously we now know that Vidic will be missing for the remainder of this campaign. Rafael and Fabio have both suffered injuries recently as well, but straight from the mouth of Sir Alex “We’ll now have to choose between Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. I thought Rio had his best game of season on Wednesday. His experience will be vital”.
From our earlier article:
This is a bit of a large chart, so lets break down exactly what we’re looking at. Though minutes played has been included, the statistics presented are all totals, not per minute or match played. For simplicity we’ve instead included the win percentage for possession and aerial duels, as well as for effective clearances. The chart can be read left to right, with a break at the Rafael/Fabio line, as the first 4 are SAF’s first choice defense, while the later 4 appear to be his chosen replacements based on the first match of the season.
There is a notable difference between Rio and Rafael’s tackle rate in challenges over their replacements, Jones and Smalling. Rio wins a full 80% of his tackles, with Rafael nearly as efficient at 76% while he is the single greatest tackler per minute in the entire defense. In just 1,200′ he attempted 58, and won 44, tackles, more than twice as many as Rio in 500′ fewer. With his surgery having already gone forward, he is out through September, and maybe sidelined longer. Though the least experienced in the EPL, it is actually his brother Fabio who should be used to replace him here.
Jones v. Evans is the question on most United supporters minds. Johnny Evans played more than 1,000′ in the league last season, comporting himself well and establishing his own ability to play at the highest level. Phil Jones was one of a trio of high priced transfers Sir Alex brought in this summer as he grooms replacements for several aging members of his squad. Jones’ numbers are a bit skewed by his playing for another team, but he does currently compare only slightly less favorably with Vidic and Ferdinand as Smalling or Evans. Jones’ statistics indicate he is not as skilled at taking players off the ball with a tackle Evans, and he does not win possession duels as effectively as Smalling. However the single greatest difference, and the point which could prove most costly in a match, is in loss of possession.
You can read the entire article here, but for now we want to concentrate on what United has lost in Vidic. Last season the centre half pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand lost possession a combined 18 times in 4,827′. That is a loss of possession only once ever 268′ or, roughly, once ever 3 games. Comparatively, Vidic and Rio have played to these statistics so far in the 2011/12 season:
The Loss of possession averages out to 324:30 per loss of possession, an improvement over last season by nearly 50′. They have once again hardly put in a foot wrong all season, with just one defensive error between them.
The defender has attempted just 205 passes overall but his 82% is a solid, if unspectacular, number. What is remarkable is that he’s managed to create four chances. While that may not seem like a very high number, two prolific strikers this season have each only managed to created 5 chances apiece – Demba Ba and Yakubu (read more here).
The real story comes when we look at the scoring that has been allowed with Vidic on the field and without him. This season as a team Manchester United has had 14 starts, kept 7 clean sheets – four with de Gea and three with Lindegaard – and allowed just 13 goals, or 0.93 goals per game. When Vidic is on the pitch, 6 starts to date, they have recorded 4 clean sheets and allowed just 2 goals, or 0.33 goals per game.
The seven clean sheets lead the league and they are one of only five teams to have recorded five or more on the season. That means there are still 15 teams who have only managed to keep 4 or fewer clean sheets in 14 matches, the same number that United have kept in Vidic’s six League starts this term. While it’s a bit of a garbage statistic because football, and defending in particular, is team oriented, it does show within the United defense the level of influence that Nemanja Vidic weilds.
While Fergie has said that there will be an examination of Jones, Smalling and Evans, choosing any of the three will represent a marked decline in the defensive record for United and may indirectly lead to a notable decline in the offensive third as well. As everyone at the club wishes Vidic a speedy recovery pragmatism dictates that we look forward for his replacement. Based on the statistics presented in this article and Manchester United 1 – 0 Sunderland, the search may not yield the results that Sir Alex, United and the supporters have come to expect.
For a quick look at the Fantasy Premier League value of Manchester United’s new back line read Cooper’s article here.