Vidic demands United improvement

Defeats for Chelsea and Arsenal on Saturday should have been the

start of a perfect weekend for United, who would have moved to

within a point of Carlo Ancelotti’s men if they had beaten Bolton

at the Reebok Stadium yesterday. Instead, the problems which are

proving so difficult to eradicate reared their heads again. A

combination of slack marking by Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra moving

away from the post he was supposed to be defending allowed Zat

Knight to put Bolton ahead. Then, after Nani had scored a brilliant

equaliser, the visitors offered Martin Petrov far too much room to

exhibit his talents as he cut inside Park Ji-sung to drive a second

goal beyond Edwin van der Sar. In the end, United were lucky to

have the chance of settling for a point given Johan Elmander

blasted a brilliant opportunity over the bar which surely would

have given Bolton victory. Yet, while Michael Owen’s third goal in

a week ensured United did not make the short journey back down the

M61 empty-handed, the brutal truth is that they have now conceded

nine goals in five Premier League games. Even basement boys Everton

have done better than that, while Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are still

to record an away win in three attempts. “It is a big concern that

we are conceding so many away goals,” said Vidic. “We have to stop

doing it. We cannot let it happen again.” It hardly seems

believable that the same defenders responsible for the present

malaise should concede just 22 and 24 goals respectively during the

entire Premier League title-winning campaigns of 2008 and 2009. Rio

Ferdinand’s absence is clearly not helping but the England skipper

was also missing when United went 14 games without conceding a goal

during the mid-winter of the 2008-09 campaign that also included a

trip to Japan for the Club World Cup. As the man who now wears the

captain’s armband, Vidic feels the responsibility more than most.

“Over the last few years we haven’t given that many goals away or

even allowed them so many chances,” he said. “Before we have always

looked strong, so this is not what we are used to. “We have to play

much better in our away games.” As United go to Valencia on

Wednesday needing to breathe fresh life into their Champions League

campaign before visiting Sunderland on Saturday, the need for

improvement is immediate. Ferdinand is expected to be back for the

Spain trip, which Ferguson felt was sufficiently important to miss

last week’s Carling Cup tie against Scunthorpe in order to go on a

spying mission. With three successive goalless draws in Spain to

look back on, including the 2008 semi-final against Barcelona,

United do have memories of defensive solidity to fall back on, even

if it goes against Ferguson’s belief that victory is essential. In

addition to getting things right at the back, Ferguson must also

decide what to do with Wayne Rooney. The United boss may not have

taken too kindly to Kevin Keegan’s comments but they were given

with the benefit of having been the marquee player of his era. Few

can understand the pressures Rooney has to operate under. However,

as a former England captain and manager, Keegan has more of an idea

than most. The problem for Ferguson is a balance between keeping

faith with a player who was so outstanding last season and getting

the most from a team for whom Rooney is current third on the list

of in-form strikers, behind Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen.

Antonio Valencia’s long-term injury and a rather shorter two-week

absence for Ryan Giggs also deny Ferguson the option of using

Rooney as a lone striker flanked by two quick wingers, as he did so

effectively last term. Given Ferguson’s assistant Mike Phelan

yesterday revealed Rooney was still troubled by an ankle complaint,

there must be an argument for giving the 24-year-old a complete

break to give his body and mind a chance to recover from the

physical and emotional trauma he has been through recently.