Nemanja Vidic Reveals Why Jones And Smalling Have Struggled So Much
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Ahead of tomorrow's clash between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford, a lot of attention will be paid to the tactics employed by Jose Mourinho, with the United manager often opting for a defensively minded gameplan for games of this magnitude.
United have played out three consecutive draws with Jurgen Klopp's men under Mourinho's reign, with just two goals being scored across those three games, one of which was a penalty.
The Portuguese coach drew the ire of many fans when he 'parked the bus' at Anfield in October although, in hindsight, a point and a clean sheet at Anfield is actually a commendable result.
Yet, despite Mourinho's tactics proving effective in the previous three meetings between his United team and their rivals from Merseyside, a lot of eyes will be on how the likes of Chris Smalling and potentially Phil Jones deal with the irresistible attacking threat of the free scoring Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, who have 68 goals between them, this season.
Once upon a time, it was expected that Smalling and Jones would be United's Bruce and Pallister or Vidic and Ferdinand for the next generation. Instead, both players have failed to convince at Old Trafford, neither establishing themselves as an automatic first choice, with the likes of Marcos Rojo, Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof being drafted in to strengthen United's untrustworthy backline.
Both players were brought in as youngsters, Smalling as a 21-year-old from Fulham, in 2010 and Jones as a 19-year-old from Blackburn Rovers, in 2011.
Now 26 and 28, respectively, the England international duo should be the centre half partnership that United fans would be confident of coming up against any attack in world football, in the same manner Ferdinand and Vidic once did, but former United captain Vidic has conceded that the injury problems he and Ferdinand endured not long after Smalling and Jones' arrivals at Old Trafford hindered the pair's development.
Speaking during a media coaching session linked to the UEFA Pro License course, at St.George's Park, the former United captain said via ESPN, "It didn't help them [Smalling and Jones] because they didn't have a more experienced player to pick their brain when they played.
"It's not just about playing together with an experienced player.
"If Phil Jones is 24 and playing alongside someone who is 34, the player who is 34 years old is using his brain more than the 24-year-old.
"To rise, he needs to be encouraged a bit and made to feel comfortable in his shoes.
"If you lose that belief and think: 'Should I be here, or here, or be here, then it's difficult to play. So that didn't help them.
"Even if they do something bad, you say: 'OK, he's 24 but where was I to help him?"
Vidic was the last player to captain United to a Premier League title, in 2013 and also lifted another four league titles on top of the 2008 Champions League, 2008 FIFA Club World Cup and three League Cups, making 300 appearances in total and scoring 21 goals.
Will United's defence rise to the occasion tomorrow afternoon, though?
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