Moyes must act to put brakes on Rio's decline
Ferdinand visibly creaking under weight of starting so many games
THE last time Rio Ferdinand played six Premier League games before the end of September was when he was a sprightly 28-year-old whose sharpness, speed and anticipation made him one of the best defenders in Europe.
On Saturday, Ferdinand started and finished his sixth league game of the season and, as West Brom buzzed around Old Trafford, he looked every inch a player who turns 35 in less than six weeks' time.
The ease with which Morgan Amalfitano put the ball through his legs to score the opening goal was eye-catching but, regardless of age, it's possible for any centre-back to be exposed by a rampaging opponent at full tilt.
Last season, Gareth Bale did something similar to Ferdinand at Old Trafford in Tottenham's 3-2 victory, the anniversary of which was yesterday.
That was just Ferdinand's fourth game and he recovered to have a decent season in which he made 34 appearances in all competitions on his way to a sixth Premier League winner's medal.
Yet there were other matters of concern on Saturday, such as Ferdinand misjudging a cross in the first half when Stephane Sessegnon should have scored and the second goal in which the ball passed him twice in a couple of seconds before Saido Berahino fired past David de Gea.
Ferdinand is usually the first to berate his team-mates when a goal is scored – even if the blame might lie closer to home – but it's a measure of how much he knew he was at fault that his immediate response to both goals was so meek.
Manager David Moyes complained last week about some of the unfair criticism which he felt his side faced following their defeat to Manchester City but, by starting Ferdinand all of their league games so far, the manager seems unwilling to do anything about one of the major problems he is facing.
Last week Moyes, bizarrely, compared his current situation of taking over a team that had won the league by 11 points to the one he found at Everton who, in the years before Moyes took over, were often battling relegation.
"I really feel as if I am going back 10 years," he said after the League Cup victory against Liverpool which lifted some of the pressure on him. "I had a really senior group of players (at Everton). I knew I was going to have to change the squad round and it was going to take me time... I might be talking about the same thing now really.
"You just hope people who understand football, understand the job and what it takes and the person I am following here. That wouldn't have been easy for anyone."
Ferdinand is certainly one of those "senior" group of players but United are as blessed with central defenders as any team in the league with Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones all capable of filling that role, especially against the lesser teams.
All of them haven't been available to Moyes in every game but two weeks ago, when United played Crystal Palace at home, Moyes would have known that they would play Bayer Leverkusen and Manchester City in the following week.
Ferdinand and Vidic are, understandably, still his first-choice central defensive partnership but, against a team like Palace, there was no need to put another 90 minutes of football into Ferdinand's legs, which, as Alex Ferguson recognised several seasons ago, need to be managed to get the best out of him when matches become more important in the New Year.
There were even warning signs against Palace that Ferdinand was not at his best as he was caught horribly under a long, raking pass only for Palace striker Dwight Gayle to let him off the hook by shooting wide.
Against Palace, Evans spent the entire game on the bench when he could have replaced Ferdinand. Three days later, the former England defender played another full game against Leverkusen.
Nobody could think that replacing Ferguson at Old Trafford was going to be seamless but, even those who may not "understand football", as Moyes put it, could understand that a manager's job is to solve the problems which he has recognised.
The age profile of the United squad should not have been any secret to Moyes and yet the only signing which the club made during the August transfer-window was the ham-fisted purchase of Marouane Fellaini. If Moyes felt that he needed another central defender or another left-back, he should certainly have tried to get one.
Unlike the aftermath of the defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City, Moyes at least didn't moan about the difficulty of the fixtures which his team have had to face so far, which, seeing as they are champions, wore very thin very quickly.
After their six Champions League group games last season, United had one home game against QPR and five away matches against Liverpool, Newcastle, Chelsea, Aston Villa and Manchester City. And, incredibly, they won every one of them.
This week will provide a strong indication about how much Moyes has learned about squad management when his team travel almost 3,000 kilometres back from Donetsk after their game on Wednesday night and play Sunderland away on Saturday evening.
If Ferdinand is involved in both, Moyes will be reaping what he has sowed.