So all of a sudden the task facing Manchester United in the group stages of the Champions League is not as straight forward as it looked a month ago is it? A first up scoreless draw with Glasgow Rangers at Old Trafford was taken with a slight shrug of the shoulders as merely a blip, and it could still be. But unless United can at least avoid defeat at Valencia on Wednesday, the unthinkable may not prove to be so far fetched.
That old saying insists that when it rains it pours and United seem to be in the middle of a mini deluge at the moment. The long term injury to Antonio Valencia suffered against Rangers coming right in the midst of Wayne Rooney’s domestic problems was a heavy blow for Sir Alex Ferguson.
Veteran winger Ryan Giggs will also not be involved in Spain after damaging his hamstring in Sunday’s match at the Reebok Stadium while Rooney himself will be unavailable with either an ankle injury or because he was dropped from the squad depending on which report you prefer to believe.
While all that will be of concern to Ferguson, perhaps the most worrying aspect of all is the continued absence of Rio Ferdinand from the middle of the defence. While finding the net in the Premier League so far this season has not been much of a problem, conceding nine times in six matches certainly is. The fact that the normally solid Ferdinand -Vidic partnership has been virtually non existent is a major factor for those defensive lapses.
Unless Ferdinand can make a return from injury in Valencia, don’t be at all surprised to see Ferguson opting for Chris Smalling replacing Jonny Evans in the middle of the defence and possibly one of the da Silva twins taking over from John O’Shea in the back four. Keeping the Spanish scoreless will no doubt be one of the main objectives for Sir Alex.
The truth is that on his current form, the absence of Rooney, for whatever reason, will not be missed because as former Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan bluntly observed after his performance at Bolton “Last year, you would fancy him to put some of his chances into the net. His performance tells me his confidence is shot”. Ferguson may even be well advised to give Rooney a couple of weeks right away from football altogether in an attempt to help him get his head together.
Under the circumstances, a point at Valencia will be quite an acceptable result for United and while a narrow defeat will not be fatal, it will make the unthinkable prospect of failing to go through to the knock out stages of the competition more than a worrying possibility.
Does Ferguson need to make defensive changes in Valencia?