Football FanCast columnist Tristan Mann wonders if the recent injuries to Vidic and Ferdinand will present the opportunity for the Gerard Pique to finally stake his claim in the United back four.
It may soon become apparent that Manchester United's defensive injury woes could well have been exaggerated. With reports that Gary Neville and Mikael Silvestre are set to return from injury and the youngster Gerard Pique ready to step in, the loss of Vidic and Ferdinand doesn't seem so much of a blow.
Rio Ferdinand limped off after 70 minutes during Sunday's 2-2 draw with Middlesbrough meaning United are now left without their two first choice centre-backs following the injury suffered to Nemanja Vidic against Roma last week. However, despite some United fans declaring their season will now fall apart, others, including Sir Alex Ferguson believe Gerard Pique is more than capable of filling in the gap.
The 21-year-old has been tipped for big things since his arrival from Barcelona in 2004, but due to Ferdinand and Vidic's impressive partnership he has been limited to only seven appearances this season. Now they are both out for at least the next two games, Pique has a prime opportunity to stake a claim for a regular place in the United team. He came on for Ferdinand at the Riverside on Sunday and was hugely impressive, although anyone who watched the match could testify that even Darren Moore could have looked impressive in that United back four. Ferguson said, "Pique came on and did brilliantly. He was marvellous."
For a player who began his career at Barcelona, Pique might have thought he would have broken into the United team by now. But such has been the form of Ferdinand and Vidic this season; Pique has spent the majority of matches on the sideline. United have only conceded 17 goals so far in the Premier League, and even though their two first choice defenders are now due for a spell on the sideline, it seems that some are prematurely predicting a capitulation in United's season.
Although Pique has not had too much experience in the Premier League he spent last season on loan to Real Zaragoza where he was on the team sheet every week. Add to this the fact that he won the European under 19s Championship with Spain, and I think Pique has enough to merit his place in the United back four while Ferdinand and Vidic are out. On Sunday United looked fragile from the off when Ferguson chose to pair John O'Shea with Ferdinand. However, when Ferdinand was replaced by Pique and Owen Hargreaves came on for O'Shea, United instantly looked a tighter unit, and not so susceptible to Afonso Alves, who had netted two neat goals before this point.
Some may claim that Pique cannot, by himself, step in and replace both Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. Perhaps not, but United are certainly not down to the bare bones. Pique and Wes Brown looked a decent partnership in the middle, while Owen Hargreaves is an astute right-back. Quite clearly the injuries to Ferdinand and Vidic were not what Ferguson or any United fan would have wanted at this pivotal point in the season, but its clear they have the depth to cope. It has presented the opportunity for Pique to finally show his worth to the United public and I'm more than confident that he can step up to the plate.