Man U News

The original unofficial Man Utd news aggregation site.

Season Review – United’s Defenders

The 2014/15 season has well and truly come to a close. Chelsea’s dominance saw them rightfully retain the title for the first time since 2010. Southampton’s massive rise under new manager Ronald Koeman has enabled them to stake a claim in Europe next season, after they were seemingly down and out when a majority of their players where snatched away from them in the summer. Leicester City defied huge odds to stay in the Premier League, after sitting at rock bottom for such a huge period of time.  Although it was maybe not the most exciting season ever, it did produce one or two spectacular, or simply unbelievable viewings. From Southampton’s 8-0 massacre of Sunderland, Steven Gerrard’s final game for Liverpool ending in a 6-1 thrashing, to Charlie Adam’s absolute belter from the halfway-line.  All in all, it’s yet again been brilliant value for entertainment on all fronts. Manchester United have had a questionable season, they saw themselves clinch the top 4 once again in Louis van Gaal’s debut season in charge. However, it divides opinion as to whether this achievement should be greatly hailed, with the club spending almost £150 million in the summer. Over the next few days, ManUNews will be reviewing Manchester United’s season in its entirety, from goalkeeper to manager. Any player that has made over 5 appearances for the first team will be included.   Manchester United’s defence took a big hit when legendary trio Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra all left the club last summer. The heart of United’s defence which kept them solid for so many years had effectively been ripped out. To replace them, new manager Louis van Gaal opted to side with the youth and brought in Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo. He also promoted both Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair to the first team. It was a bold move by Van Gaal, who also saw potential in Chris Smalling and Phil Jones being ‘the next Rio and Vidic’ pairing. United’s defence, whilst at times shaky, did the job for Louis van Gaal. Perhaps the best stat of all for the defence is that they conceded the 4th lowest amount of goals in the league. For a relatively inexperienced defence, I don’t thank that’s at all bad. It’s a defence that has also been blighted with injury troubles, so the back line has constantly had to be chopped and changed. I will now discuss each defender individually and score them an overall mark out of 10 to sum up their season.   Phil Jones Phil Jones has had a fairly uncertain time at United. Often described as a ‘jack of all trades’ – Jones has found himself playing a variety of different positions for club and country. Now 23, Jones is expected to stake his claim as the next John Terry/ Vidic/ Duncan Edwards, as he has been described. This season, it’s fair to say that he hasn’t exactly made that impression. Jones has managed 22 appearances in the league for United, a number which is limited due to his injury troubles. He began the season with a bit of criticism following a few rather ‘rash’ decisions that often led to problems at the back. This criticism continued as he suffered injury setbacks which allowed others to fill in and give off relatively good impressions. If it wasn’t for the back end of the season, Jones would be looking at a rather poor rating. However, his form massively picked up around February/ March time, and he hasn’t looked back since. I think a great deal of this is down to LvG, however nothing should be taken away from Jones. I personally have been a huge fan of Jones ever since he first signed in 2011, I have huge hopes that Jones will be the rock both United and England need, and it really is great to see him finally begin to step up and show what he’s made of. Oh, and his brave dolphin dive to defend against Arsenal was just brilliant. Rating – 6.5/10   Chris Smalling A lot has been said about Chris Smalling in the 5 years he’s spent at United. I found myself massively unsure about the player some time ago, as a result of his ‘uneasy’ approach to defending. I often found that he’d cause more problems for the side than he needed to. This season Smalling made 25 appearances in the league, with a further 4 coming in the FA Cup. Once again, injuries halted his appearances, but he has been one of the most consistent of the lot nevertheless. His start to the season seemed typical of his United career, a silly sending off against Manchester City and a string of average performances, this all meant the majority of United fans would have agreed Smalling’s time at United was up. It wasn’t until 2015 when I realised just how much Smalling had become an integral part of United’s defence. Not just with his solid performances, but also his attitude and leadership had taken a huge boost. You could see he had become the main man in defence and enjoyed organising his line. Again, it’s obvious Louis van Gaal played a major part in Smalling’s revival, a new contract for the player and a few stints as captain for the club has now given him an entirely new name. Smalling has also managed 4 goals for United this season, which is just an added incentive. In my opinion, Smalling has been United’s best defender this season. Once again, I hope both himself and Jones stake their claim at United and England and form a formidable duo for years to come. Rating – 8.5/10   Marcos Rojo Rojo signed for United for around £16 million. Big question marks surrounded the player, mainly because of his use as a left back for Argentina – but also because of his somewhat poor disciplinary record. It’s fair to say neither of those worries have posed as any great concern for United. Rojo’s ability to play at left back has benefited the team massively with Luke Shaw’s injury problems. His discipline has also been largely under control, with almost no run-ins with referees at all. Rojo was an exciting transfer for me, as it seemed at the time no new central defender would be brought in, even though they were much needed. When he did arrive, and began to play, I was impressed. He seemed to have a real appetite and bullish approach to the game. Rojo generally didn’t have a poor game for the first half of the season, but again, he did suffer one or two little niggles that kept him on the sidelines. This allowed the liked of Jones and Smalling to pave their way back into the first XI, but it also meant that towards the end of the season Rojo was dropped to the bench. Although he managed a respectable 22 league appearances, it is obvious that if not for his injuries, he would more than likely have played the majority, if not all of the games for United. With the season now over for United, it would seem that as it stands, Jones and Smalling are LvG’s first choice centre backs. However, because of Rojo’s consistency for United over the course of the season, my rating for the Argentine is higher than that of Phil Jones’. Rating – 7/10   Jonny Evans Jonny Evans managed just 14 league appearances for United this season, one of the lowest tallies he’s collected since he started at United. His 6 match ban for spitting played a big part in him not playing more often, however in general I think it’s fair to say he endured much of the season as United’s 4th, if not 5th choice centre back. Evans didn’t play at all convincingly for United at any stage, and with him strongly linked with a move away this summer, it could be the end of the homegrown Irishman. Now 27, you’d expect Evans to have stepped up and it’s a real shame that he hasn’t done that. Overall, Evans’ season has been rather disappointing. Rating – 4/10   Luke Shaw The most expensive teenager in the world arrived at Old Trafford with the task of replacing one of the finest left backs Manchester had seen, Patrice Evra. At just 18 (now 19) – it was never going to be an easy task for the youngster to undertake. He made 16 appearances in the league for United, which was hugely disappointing given the hype surrounding the lad. However, this shortage of appearances can be blamed on nothing but injuries, something Shaw has been hugely cursed with this season. It is a real shame that Shaw has struggled off the pitch with injuries, however on the pitch, Shaw has shown that he does posses the ability he needs to become one of the best. His performance against Chelsea stood out for me as his best show so far, he was my Man of the Match in that game, and it gave me great belief that the defender will come good sooner rather than later. Overall, injuries may have halted his immediate progress at United, but at such a young age it is not surprising. Luke Shaw’s development may take time, but it’ll certainly be worth the wait. Based on this season alone, I think Shaw was right when he gave himself a C- rating. Rating – 6/10    Valencia Antonio Valencia was not the man I expected to make the most appearaces of any DEFENDER this season. 33 in total, with a further 3 in the FA Cup as well. The Ecuadorian is naturally a winger by trade, and was only used as a full back by Ferguson in circumstances where numbers in defence were limited. However, Louis van Gaal saw something in Valencia that none of us expected to ever see. Apparently, he’s quite good at playing wing back. This season, Valencia often made mistakes which lead to problems at the back, Arsenal in the FA Cup comes to mind. However, ignoring all of his short comings, he has actually done pretty well. The 29-year-old is actually quite a solid defender when on his game, going forward has never, and never will be an issue for him. We know Valencia possesses the pace to take on most people, it was always going to be a case of whether or not he could track back and defend. In a conclusion as short as I can possibly give, he did. Overall, I’m impressed with Valencia this season. Whether or not this will stop LvG signing a new right back in the summer is another story. Rating – 7.5/10   Rafael United’s first choice right back for sometime. After bursting onto the scenes aged 18, Rafael has struggled to keep up the momentum and has thus slipped out of United’s first XI. Rafael started the season with question marks surrounding his future, and now the 24-year-old has ended it with the same questions being asked. With just 10 appearances in the league all season, and only a hand-full of those coming in 2015, it looks likely the Brazilian’s time is up. Rafael’s only real spectacular moment came for United’s under 21’s – a magnificent lob was one of the goals of the season. However, injuries and poor performances have surely ensured the player will follow his twin brother out of United. Rating – 4.5/10   Paddy McNair The Irishman has been one of the surprises of the season for United, having been promoted to the first team unexpectedly, he has surely given United fans something to look forward to. At just 20, McNair looks a mature and solid defender. At the start of the campaign, when he was first introduced, McNair gave a string of impressive performances, this lead to him having a regular role on the bench and often appearing. He made 16 appearances in the league for United, which is quite an achievement for a youth product who was probably not the Under 21’s first choice centre back. Either way, McNair has played a decent part in the squad this season, as for next season, I’d like to see him loaned to another Premier League side, with the opportunity to play more games being a huge factor in his development. Rating – 7/10   Tyler Blackett Blackett was another addition to the squad from the Under 21’s. He managed 10 appearances in the league for United, and has played a fairly adequate part in defence. Although not the most convincing of players, the 21-year-old can only get better. Blackett was sent off for United against Leicester City, and also scored an own goal late in the game against Arsenal, which may put a small stain his debut season at United. However, I’m confident a loan for the youngster would benefit him greatly. Rating – 5/10   Overall, United’s defence has performed better than many would have expected. On paper, a young and inexperienced defence has proven to be quite the opposite.