'Scary' United get back to basics
Aston Villa 0
Manchester Utd 1
MANCHESTER United will fly to Basel tomorrow for their must-not-lose Champions League tie with goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard describing their recent defensive displays as "scary".
The 6-1 home defeat to Manchester City last month was certainly a horror show for United, but the 27-year-old Dane, who featured against Aston Villa on Saturday with David de Gea on the bench, was referring to the emphatic sequence of clean sheets that they have ground out since then.
Their 1-0 victory over Villa was far more convincing than the scoreline suggested, with the home side's lack of ambition raising the pressure on manager Alex McLeish. United's victory followed wins against Everton, Sunderland and Swansea by the same margin, with a dubious penalty against Newcastle United in a 1-1 draw being the only concession. Five games, four wins -- five goals scored and just one conceded.
It is hardly champagne football and the goal difference advantage held by City has swollen to 17 more than United but McLeish said that his old mentor Alex Ferguson had been "less than pleased with the gay abandon of his defenders" in that traumatic encounter with their title rivals.
"He will sort that out," McLeish said, and while Villa fans will want their manager to concentrate on his own side's obvious failings, Ferguson has certainly acted, as Lindegaard also acknowledged.
"We got over that (City) defeat pretty well," he said. "The 1-0 win over Everton was a crucial win for the season. We're hopefully starting a wave of good play."
Ferguson restored the combination of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at the heart of that defence.
"They're world-class players," Lindegaard said. "The competition for those two spots on the team is amazing, it's scary. They (the contenders) are players that could play in most teams in the world."
Those contenders also include Chris Smalling and Phil Jones -- the latter deployed in midfield and scoring his first senior goal -- with Lindegaard adding of the 19 year-old: "It's amazing how well he's been doing in all the positions he's been playing. No matter what the manager asks of him, he delivers every time."
Ferguson reiterated that Jones's "natural" position will be as a centre-half but for now he needs him elsewhere even if Lindegaard agreed that for all City's goals, United's parsimony might also be a key to the title destination.
"When you look back over history, all the great teams have been known for having a fantastic defence," he said. "The quality we have been showing in defence since the Man City game has been scary."
United travel to Switzerland knowing that another clean sheet would take them into the last 16, ahead of Basel and in second place at least in their group.
Ferguson's selection against Villa was partly influenced by what he wants to achieve in Basel -- he hinted that with Michael Carrick suspended, Ryan Giggs will start possibly alongside Jones or Darren Fletcher in midfield.
McLeish is aware of the problems which led to boos from the home supporters at the end.
"You know how difficult it was for me to come here in the first place and I've just got to persevere," the former Birmingham City manager said. "I'm not a quitter and I will go as far as I can to get this club turned around." (© Daily Telegraph, London)