Usually, when Manchester United are mentioned this season, they discussion revolves around them being a one-man team (Robin van Persie), and how the offensive quality saves them from defeats and the mistakes of their weak defense. That used to be true, but recent matches have taught us that the woes from earlier this season aren’t that big of an issue any more.
Facts are facts: United have conceded 31 goals so far this season in the Premier League, 1.14 per match. Not great, as we usually see championship sides conceding less than a goal per match, but definitely not horrifyingly bad as things were earlier this season, when United built their confidence with comeback win after comeback win.
Maybe the key to all of this has been Michael Carrick. The 31 year old midfield is tied with Patrice Evra for most league appearances this season at 26, and while struggling earlier on by playing as a centre back, slowly, his move to the center of midfield, where he is a much better player, has made United look a lot better defensively. S
ure, their counter attacking abilities, defensively, aren’t great with a slow Carrick in the middle, but by dropping the winger formation on many matches, making sure there’s more bodies and especially Wayne Rooney in the middle to chase down attacking midfielders, Carrick doesn’t have to be exposed, leaving him free to give help where necessary and close down passing lanes.
It seems that giving up on the goalkeeper rotation didn’t hurt as well – David de Gea is United’s number one keeper, without competition, and has responded with more confident displaying between the goalposts, adding better communication with the men in front of him (unless it’s Nemanja Vidic) to his usually impressive saves. His rushing out decisions still aren’t the best in the world, but it’s quite understandable that De Gea is no longer the reason for United’s defensive woes.
The numbers paint this picture better than anything: United haven’t conceded in three of their last six matches, including against Everton, a team they usually struggle against, and against Fulham away, another ground that isn’t too welcoming for their conceding factor. Coming away from Madrid with only one goal in the net would be considered a success by many.
This isn’t the greatest United team Alex Ferguson ever had, but it’s good enough to win the Premier League with ease because it turns up the heat at the right moment during matches, even when things aren’t going so well. Eventually, all that attacking and scoring confidence trickled down to the defense, which stopped being one of the easiest to score against in the league.