While it is true, an often more entertaining, that goals win matches – if you score more than your opponent, you win – it is also true that title winning teams are built on a solid defence. In the centre back pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand Manchester United have perhaps their best foundation for another successful era of glory.
In Sir Alex, and United’s, first dominant team of the 90’s, they were lead by the pairing of Pallister and Bruce and the back. Pallister, a once British record buy from Middlesbrough, had taken his time to settle at the grandeur turf of Old Trafford, where performances are expected from the first minute, and the luxury of time has seen many would be stars out before their feet have settles. But Pallister was given time, and with Bruce, the United vice captain and then captain, formed the centre back partnership that United have since been trying to rediscover in many guises. Pallister should have earned more than the 22 caps he picked up for England, and Bruce may have been the unluckiest player in England, having served at the heart of United’s defense for 9 years, and failed to pick up a single England cap. In the treble year of ’99 United had the Dutch giant, Jaap Stam, partnered by Ronny Johnson or Henning Berg, a partnership that perhaps was the closest United came to the settled calmness and confidence of Bruce and Pally. Until now.
In Vidic and Ferdinand United have a pairing that could ensure their appetite for goals is matched by their stinginess at the back. After a slow start to the season, when United failed to win their opening 3 games, with 2 draws and a defeat, they then went 8 games, 6 in the league and 2 in the Champions League, without dropping a point, or leaking a single goal. 611 league minutes without conceding. The solid performance has been build on consistency in selection at the back, as well as the understanding and form of United’s centre back pairing. During the later matches in the run Vidic missed out due to a concussion sustained against Wigan, but those who have stepped in, Pique, O’ Shea and Simpson have fitted in seamlessly, as United have build their run of form, and victories, that no stretches to 10 games, on a tight and frugal defence. They have no managed to add goals to the equation, scoring 12 in their last 3 games.
Like Pallister, Vidic took time to settle in at United, the Serbian having made the move to Manchester from Moscow and Russian football. There can now be few doubts as to the calibre, dedication, and total commitment to the cause, of United’s tough tackling centre back, who has proved very successful with his prowess in the air at attacking set pieces. 7million now seems a bargain for the player, who was a relative unknown to most United fans when he joined 2 years ago.
Ferdinand, who has always had a reputation as a fine footballer, established at West Ham, Leeds, and with England, did have a hard time justifying his record 29million pound transfer in 2002 from Leeds. Classy and elegant on the ball, able to play the ball out of defence, as a link man to the midfield, Ferdinand was prone to slight losses of concentration, that made many question his worth as one of the best centre backs in the game. The partnership with Vidic is pouring water on many of those claims and Ferdinand has been putting in the performances over the last few games of a player fully worth the adulation and esteem that has often been paid to him and questioned by some. His defensive work has been outstanding, and he has managed to score in the last 2 games, a part of his game that has thus far been lacking throughout his career.
The classy, ball playing, Englishman at the back, and the Serbian in the mould of a typical English center half, Ferdinand and Vidic, have laid the foundation for a team that looks to be building up momentum to do something special this season, and in seasons to come. A foundation build on the most solid defense. Winning teams always have good defenses.