Regaining old defensive steel is Fergie's real January target
IF Manchester United are to fight off their noisy neighbours and retain the Premier League title, the general consensus is they must be active in the transfer market in January.
But I'm not convinced Alex Ferguson will be in any rush to open the chequebook, despite the threat from Manchester City and the recent disappointment of exiting the Champions League.
There is a strong argument that they would be better sticking with what they have until the summer.
It's a tribute to the standards Ferguson has set that so much criticism has been levelled at his side this season, yet there they were back on familiar territory yesterday, briefly forcing their way back to the top of the table before City beat Arsenal.
United's biggest problem is they're no better than they were last season, when I already saw the warning signs, and City are a million times better. The solution, inevitably, is presumed to be Ferguson moving quickly to strengthen in January, but there are no obvious targets to pursue.
If, say, a Luka Modric could be signed, Ferguson would obviously go for him, but Spurs have shown already they're not prepared to sell. And even if that stance changed, Chelsea and City could outbid United.
Then you look at someone like Bolton's Gary Cahill, who does seem to be available, but everyone was reluctant to pay £18m for him last summer. That tells me Ferguson would prefer to wait and allow Chris Smalling and Phil Jones to develop as top-class defenders.
When names are being linked with United ahead of January, it surprises me that most are midfielders or attackers. It is suggested the void left by Paul Scholes needs to be filled. Scholes is one of the greatest players in Premier League history, but he was only a bit-part contributor last season, which is why I believe his absence now is being overplayed.
United's title win last season was based largely on their fantastic defence -- not midfield and attack. Take Edwin van der Sar, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand out of any defence and the result would be plain to see.
United's titles under Ferguson will be remembered for flowing football but that's not what wins championships. It is the 1-0 wins or clean sheets at tough venues that make all the difference.
With Van der Sar, Vidic and Ferdinand at their best, Ferguson knew United could beat anybody. Restoring that defensive steel is Ferguson's real challenge. If United could find another Vidic in January, I'm sure Ferguson wouldn't hesitate. In the absence of such targets, he would be as well to stick with what he's got. (© Daily Telegraph, London)