Tuesday 20 March 2018

Leadership gives United the edge

Nemanja Vidic Photo: Getty Images
Nemanja Vidic Photo: Getty Images

If there is one thing the Premier League title run-in demands more than anything else it is leadership.

That is why Alex Ferguson, who starts his five-match touchline ban at West Ham tomorrow, will be happy to see his captain Nemanja Vidic return after injury to the heart of Manchester United's defence.

Vidic brings solidity and composure. He lifts those around him. He is a player unfazed by the pressure of trying to land a record 19th title.

In fact, he is just the sort of no-nonsense leader Arsenal could do with at the centre of their defence.

Transport Vidic into Arsenal's back four and manager Arsene Wenger might be looking down on United right now, rather than in second place and five points behind, albeit with a game in hand.

Ferguson values experience. Wenger still appears to believe major trophies can be delivered with inexperienced 25-year-old centre backs such as Laurent Koscielny and 20-year-old goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny when the team seems to be crying out for a Tony Adams figure.

It is difficult to imagine Adams and David Seaman, once linchpins of the Gunners defence, committing the schoolboy lack of communication which caused the howler which cost Arsenal the Carling Cup against Birmingham.

Yet it is not just in defence where United have the edge in the race for the title.

Arsenal may have played the most eye-catching football in the Premier League this season with Samir Nasri, in particular, outstanding.

Yet it is United who are the Premier League's top scorers with 64 goals to Arsenal's 59.

For all the talk of United not having been at their best in so many games, they have still been the most penetrative, most attacking, most effective force in English football.

Chelsea, currently nine points behind United in third place, have scored 53 goals, Manchester City in fourth 45 and fifth-placed Tottenham, who have received such praise for their attacking intent, just 41.

Who are the team most likely to come up with a winner in the 94th minute? Inevitably United.

Who are most likely to grind out a result when playing considerably below their best? Undoubtedly United.

Who are proven to have the quality in depth to deal best with injuries and suspensions? Again the answer is United.

Most of all, which club has the track record of delivering in the period of the season Ferguson describes as "squeaky-bum time?" We all know that one.

It is not down to fortune that Ferguson has won 11 Premier League titles. It is down to meticulous planning, a steady nerve and the ability to convey confidence to his squad.

The chances are that United will have too much quality for West Ham tomorrow in the early kick-off, which could see Ferguson's side briefly go eight points clear of Arsenal.

That will ratchet up the pressure at the Emirates when the Gunners take on Blackburn, although it would be a surprise if Arsenal did not prevail.

Arsenal then face a tricky run of games against Blackpool, Liverpool and Tottenham, while United have the easier-looking task against Fulham, Newcastle and Everton.

If the Gunners have managed to hang in, then comes a potentially defining encounter on May 1 when Arsenal and United meet at the Emirates.

That's the day Wenger might wish he had a Vidic.

Press Association

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