Manchester United have been renowned for their attacking mentality and style of play, built on world class wingers and unstoppable strikers. But with the likes of Giggs, Beckham, Cantona, Van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo all moved on or retired after tasting seemingly endless glory under Sir Alex Ferguson, the players at other end of the pitch should not be forgotten.
In his autobiography, Ferguson revealed that he began building any new side with top quality centre-backs, most recently Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Again, the top quality players who took trophies in their stride, Denis Irwin, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Gary Neville, Stam, Evra, the list goes on and on, have retired or left the club.
Rio Ferdinand left for QPR, Vidic and Evra traded Manchester for places in Serie A teams Inter Milan and Juventus respectively. So who does that leave at the back for Van Gaal this season?
Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling have all had careers riddled with injuries, which may have contributed to all three being unable to quite live up to their much discussed potential over the years. Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair have been handed first team places as the current injury crisis continues to escelate, and have performed admirably, but are still prone to errors and naive mistakes, as would be expected from such raw young players.
Summer purchases Luke Shaw, Marcus Rojo and Daley Blind have also failed to impress, in defence at least, as Daley Blind, who played in the role of left wing back for Van Gaals Dutch side in the World Cup, has been played in midfield so far. Luke Shaw, slated by Van Gaal for not being fit enough, has failed to recapture the top quality performances that saw him called up for England over Ashley Cole in the World Cup squad.
It is not as if Louis Van Gaal lacked the funds needed to seriously invest in his back line, spending huge sums of money on the attacking flair of Di Maria and Falcao, despite already having Rooney, Van Persie, Mata and Adnan Januzaj to fill these roles. Leaders at the back are what Manchester United are missing; the commanding and calming influence of experienced players like Vidic, whom they have completely failed to replace. It's alright spending fortunes on engine and body work tune ups for a flash car, but if you will not spend money on basics like tyres and fuel, the car, lovely as it may look, simply will not go anywhere. As Ferguson said "Attack will win you games, defence will win you titles", and he would know, he won everything after all, with his teams built on the quality defence that Manchester United do not have now, and it continues to cost them.