Gary Neville says a defender like John Terry is all that separates Chelsea from Manchester United this season, with defensive instability costing Louis van Gaal's side.
The former Manchester United full-back says his former side are struggling to cope without Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, who both left Old Trafford after extended spells last summer.
Vidic and Ferdinand forged a formidable defensive partnership under Sir Alex Ferguson and are still regarded as one of the finest the Premier League has seen. Now Manchester United's defence is looking a shadow of its former self, conceding an average of a goal-a-game.
"What I always think you want in defenders is control and composure"
War of words
Neville, who earlier this season sparked a war of words with Van Gaal, has risked his wrath again by claiming Manchester United are struggling with a defence lacking in quality.
"What I always think you want in defenders is control and composure," he told Stretty News.
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"They know where they are meant to be and are not always diving around on their backside. Ferdinand and Vidic is [Steve] Bruce and [Gary] Pallister. It’s as good as it gets in football.
"They are always in the right positions and they always clear the ball out of the box. I don’t mean always as they’ve all made mistakes but there’s a composure and understanding there that in the big moments of a match they are not going to be flapping. Instead they control and settle everybody around them."
While the Red Devils have shipped 21 goals thus far, Chelsea, the current Premier League leaders, have conceded just 15. It is a small, yet significant difference that could prove decisive in the title race.
"When I look at the United defence what it lacks is control"
Neville says that Terry, who at 34-years-old is one-year older than Vidic, but was offered a 12 month deal worth £175,000-a-week by Chelsea last year, is the major difference between the two sides.
He continued: "John Terry does that at Chelsea you’ve got to admit. He brings a level of real control to the defence. When I look at the United defence what it lacks is control.
"I see players that have talent but they’re all individually working, not having controlled movements together of in-sync. That comes through understanding and from playing together."