It was Liverpool 2, Dimitar Berbatov 3, nothing more.
As a United fan, I’m happy with last weekend’s result against our great rivals, but Berba’s brilliance was a mere distraction from the problems we’re having at the back right now.
Rio Ferdinand, who missed the game because of the flu, says that he’s probably five games away from peak fitness. I say screw it, it’s better to have Rio at 50% than Jonny Evans at 150%. Okay, maybe he’s not THAT bad, but still… It’s getting a bit frustrating watching him.
Ferguson might get away with playing Kiko Macheda up-front once in a while, or have Gabriel Obertan remind us he still exists with the odd cameo, but to put Evans in the heart of defense is really pushing it.
Just look at the games where United have thrown away leads so far. Against Fulham, he failed to track a runner who managed to waltz through to the touchline and cross in for the first goal. All he did was lumber along towards said player’s general direction, but he neither got a block on the cross or force him wide enough for his teammates to get organised.
Against Everton, United were 3-1 up until Evans misjugded the flight of a cross, missed his header completely and allowed Cahill to score right behind him.
It was exactly what Everton needed – a shot of adrenaline in stoppage time, at Goodison Park – to rally and score an equaliser, which they promptly did minutes later.
Then there was the Liverpool game. Berbatov’s superb overhead kick had just put United 2-0 up when Evans decided to spoil the party again.
His lunge on Fernando Torres to concede the penalty was completely unnecessary. No disrespect to Torres, one of my favourite strikers in football, but he was having a stinker of a game, and still Evans got duped into tackling him. He had already gotten between Torres and the goal, so how about some composure to stay on your feet and see how Torres finds a way around you?
And just like their Merseyside neighbours, after putting away the penalty, Liverpool found fresh impetus having witnessed the fallibility of United’s defense; and the pressure they put on United led to a second foul on Torres (which for once Evans was not responsible for), and Steven Gerrard scoring from the resulting free-kick: three leads thrown away in five Premier League games, all traced back to the young center-back.
Now Evans is by no means a terrible defender, and I do think he’s pretty darn good for someone his age, but he’s not equipped to shoulder the burden of manning the centre of United’s defence either.
It’s not an easy job as United do not operate with a specialist holding midfielder, unlike most top teams. Chelsea have Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel, Arsenal have Alex Song and sometimes Abou Diaby, and Liverpool have Christian Poulsen and Lucas.
The closest thing United have to a holding defensive midfielder in the first XI now is Darren Fletcher, but even then he plays in a flat midfield line with Paul Scholes (who try as he may, can never provide decent defensive cover), and they both take turns roaming around.
But Evans needs protection. Fletcher can’t be covering for both Scholes in midfield and then Evans in defense.
As much as his selection is currently necessitated by injuries (primarily to Ferdinand), Ferguson needs to realise that Evans needs more cover from midfield as he can be a liability to the team when faced with players with any kind of pace. He’s just too slow to track any movement from midfield, or to deal with trickery from the likes of Torres, even a half-asleep Torres.
Then again, Fergie probably knows this too, which is why he brought in Chris Smalling, who’s more in the mould of Ferdinand, while Evans is more similar to Nemanja Vidic, his baby-sitter so far this season.
But at the moment, Ferguson can’t throw Smalling in to the deep end either, cos he probably wouldn’t fare much better than Evans given his inexperience.
So the long and short of it, unfortunately, is that United will have to just make do with Evans until Rio gets back. But who knows how long that will be?