Composed influences are vital to steer United’s youngsters on the right side of the fine line between excitement and impulsiveness, especially in defence. As the squad’s most-decorated defenders, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra are well-qualified to steady the ship, while Jonny Evans, at 24, has emerged victorious from two title run-ins at Old Trafford and played a key role in Sunderland’s promotion of 2006/07. Of the Reds’ first-team defenders, only Phil Jones is yet to sample such top-of-the-table rigours. “We’re in a good position,” says Rio. “We’ve been here before and have the experience and nerve to know what it takes to win it.”
The injury-enforced fluidity of United’s selections in defence this term has mercifully eased in recent weeks, allowing a familiarity to build between the backline and their goalkeeper, David De Gea. The Spaniard’s strong mentality helped him withstand the forensic scrutiny of his first few months in English football, and his recent spell of sterling form augurs well for the coming months. He is relishing the challenge of commanding his senior cohorts.
“To order men like Patrice Evra and Rio Ferdinand around is not easy for a rookie like me,” says De Gea. “But they are very professional and tell me the goalkeeper is the owner of the area and accept what I say.”
After a whirlwind spell of upheaval in the first half of the season, harmony has broken out in a crucial area of the United set-up – and at a vital time.
If you’re looking for experience and know-how, you’ll find it in United’s engine room. Serial silverware collectors Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick have amassed 26 league medals between them and, more than ever this term, have shown their knack for stepping up when all appears lost.