How can we protect this United starlet from our fickle media?


An uncomfortable truth has been creeping up onManchester United over the last two games, and on Tuesday night at Old Trafford, it finally hit them full in the face. The champions are not yet settled defensively, and it’s time to do something about it.

Sir Alex Ferguson put last night’s dropped points – for a home draw with Basel is, unquestionably, two points dropped for a squad of this ability – down to defensive “carelessness”. He pointed out that while the team’s forward options guarantee United goals, they need more time to get everyone fit at the back and figure out their best starting back four. David de Gea has already played behind so many different defenders he must be starting to wonder how many more are hiding around Carrington.

United can score, there is no doubt about that. Powered up front by Wayne Rooney, and last night by the emerging Danny Welbeck, the Red Devils have fired 32 goals in their opening ten competitive fixtures of the 2011/12 season, including the Community Shield.

That end of the pitch, then, appears sorted. But the other end is where Ferguson has problems to address: despite a far-from-disastrous 11 goals conceded in the same ten games, United know it could have been worse. Chelsea, for instance, created almost 20 shots at goal at Old Trafford last weekend. On Saturday, Stoke had the better of the game and de Gea was forced into a couple of spectacular saves to earn his side a point.

Ferguson has already deployed ten players in his defensive line this season, though admittedly two of those were Ezekiel Fryers and Michael Carrick in the League Cup win over Leeds. Every senior defender in the squad, apart from the injured Rafael, has had at least one start.

Injuries to the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, coupled with the summer sales of stalwart duo Wes Brown and John O’Shea, have forced Ferguson to throw Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans into starring roles earlier than he might have liked.

All three have impressed, but of those three, Jones has drawn the most praise. His swashbuckling forays upfield have drawn rave reviews from all quarters, and provided another goal on Tuesday night, this time for Welbeck. (Surely Jones will eventually start shooting himself?) United hero Paddy Crerand, now a regular pundit on MUTV, recently when so far as to compare Jones to the legendary Duncan Edwards, who is widely considered to have been one of the best players England has ever produced.

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