“Those two young players are outstanding young defenders and it’ll give us a fantastic squad; the complete squad to mount all our challenges. We’ve done well so far, but I think we can be stronger as a unit with players like Smalling and Jones back.” Sir Alex Ferguson
Despite Manchester United’s excellent start to the season, it has been a far from easy ride. The almost annual defensive crisis kicked in early this season with Jones, Smalling, Vidic, Evans and Ferdinand all spending time on the injury table.
We have struggled to keep a clean sheet in the absence of a stable defence and have depended on the quality of our attack to get us out of jail on many occasions, which it has – but now that Chris Smalling has returned to fitness and Phil Jones is well on his way, Sir Alex believes that the squad is almost complete and ready to challenge on all fronts.
He said: “Phil Jones starts training next Monday on the football side with us. He’s making really good progress.
“Chris Smalling has travelled with the party[and subsequently played 90 minutes]. That’s good news for us because as we know since the start of the season we’ve been operating on the borderline, with defenders having to play all the time and also having to play Michael Carrick at centre back.”
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are two of England’s most promising defenders. They struck a fantastic partnership for the England U21s and will be looking to replicate that for England and Manchester United in the future but their place in the squad will be important this year because of their versatility.
Both are comfortable playing at right-back and Jones can also play as a deep lying midfielder if needed. It is their flexibility that will make them so important to us when we get into the busy stages of the season. It gives us real options to Ferdinand and Evans who have been our only two fit centre backs for the past month.
Sir Alex continued: “I think we have a good squad of players.
“The area I’m most pleased about is the attacking, I think there’s goals there. Obviously we’ve got some work to do on the defending part.
“But I think the real encouraging part is that, bit by bit, we’re gaining a good collection of outstanding young midfield players, which I’m delighted about because everyone spoke about Scholes coming to the end.
“Of course he’s coming to the end, he’s 38 this month. Giggs is 39 this month but players like Anderson, Fletcher, Cleverley, the young boy Powell and Kagawa are proving that we are gathering good, strong midfield players. That encourages me more.”
He’s right. The cries for Sir Alex to buy a midfielder have lost their voice. We’ve got some great midfield players in this side when they can hold their fitness and as seen with the newly used diamond formation, they can boss a midfield as well.
Manchester United have always built teams around the nurturing of youth and this current crop is no different. Our bright young squad has gelled superbly over the past two years and are getting better with each game and with players like Jones and Smalling returning, the strength in depth is only set to increase.