One of the most surprising statistics of the season up to now is that Manchester United have conceded the fifth highest amount of shots in the Premier League this season.
The champions only trail bottom of the table Bolton, perpetual strugglers Wolves and newly promoted Norwich and QPR for this dubious accolade, and although they have the second best defensive record, it may be cause for concern for Sir Alex Ferguson.
Early in the season especially, efforts were rained in at United’s goal because of the perceived weakness from long distance of new goalkeeper David De Gea.
The young Spaniard was beaten by a speculative strike from range by Edin Dzeko that he really should have saved in the Community Shield, and other teams decided to test out Edwin van der Sar’s replacement.
As De Gea has settled however, the trend has continued and it may be because of the lack of out-and-out holding midfielders in the squad to protect the defence.
Traditionally United have gone without an anchorman, preferring to partner dynamic players who can both attack and defend in equal measure such as Roy Keane or Paul Scholes - but as the game has changed, so must the teams that play it.
Claude Makelele is the most famous defensive shield ever, and all of United’s title rivals have someone of his ilk in their ranks.
Leaders Manchester City have Nigel de Jong, who relishes winning the ball back for his side almost as much as others enjoy scoring. He has been used less for City this year because of injury and their more expansive style, but remains a key player in their squad and will barely ever venture into opposition territory.
Chelsea’s resurgence has come at the same time as Oriol Romeu has been introduced as a regular in the team. The Barcelona academy graduate is another happy to destroy other teams attacks and begin new ones for his side.
The youngster is rarely interested in getting beyond the ball, just keeping things ticking over in the middle of the park and putting his foot in at the right time.
Scott Parker has also helped Tottenham improve immeasurably and even Barcelona, the most attacking side in world football, will barely ever enter a game without Sergio Busquets or Seydou Keita being employed as an insurance policy in the engine room.
Manchester United simply do not have that player in their squad, and it could be an area they look to improve on in the January transfer window.
All the options currently available to the Red Devils after unfortunate injuries and illness to Anderson, Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher prefer to attack in games rather than defend.
Ryan Giggs is a winger by trade and his natural instinct is always to be one the front-foot and much the same can be said for the industrious Park Ji-Sung.
Darron Gibson loves to get forward and have a shot at goal, whilst Phil Jones is not shy of making a swashbuckling run when playing in the middle of midfield. The youngster is a traditional centre back, and is currently inexperienced in the position.
Michael Carrick is probably the closest United have to a holding player but his game is more about dictating play for his own side rather than tackling and winning back possession.
An introduction of steel for United would help them stop giving away shots at their goal, and therefore free up the rest of the midfield and strike force to concentrate on putting the ball in the back of the net.
Newcastle’s Ivory Coast international Cheick Tiote has impressed during his time on Tyneside, and would be an ideal man to fill the role for Fergie’s team.
Daniele De Rossi could also prove to be an option, and with contract negotiations at his current club Roma stalling, he would be available for a knockdown fee and the Italian is proven quality in this position.
Javi Garcia could also be someone who could help protect United’s centre halves. He was quietly efficient as Benfica topped United’s Champions League group, and has experience playing for one of Europe’s top sides after donning the white of Real Madrid in two different spells.
When United fans have called for a midfielder to be signed in the transfer window, it has usually been one of a creative mindset that they have in mind. But a defensive one could be just as valuable if they want to sustain their title challenge this season.
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