Manchester United 2012-13 player review: Rio Ferdinand

Clive Mason

It was another successful campaign for Rio Ferdinand: at 34-years-old, he made more appearances than any other Manchester United central-defender while he was also named into the PFA Team of the Year.

The Busby Babe continues with the fifth installment of our 2012-13 Manchester United player reviews. Next up is Rio Ferdinand.

* Manchester 20|13 season review

I'm going to be dividing each of the player reviews into three categories: 'what was expected' will be a brief and general explanation of what the expectations were for the player prior to the season's start, 'what we got' will typically be the section with the most depth as this will be the heart of the review, and 'what's next?' will be an examination of the player's future at United.

What was expected

After a few seasons with continual injuries, Ferdinand was mostly fit for the latter half of the 2011-12 season. The hope was this run of good health and impressive form at that time would portend to a similar run for this campaign -- and spread out through it's entirety if much of the wrinkles with his fitness concerns had been ironed out. The 34-year-old has displayed a decline in pace in recent seasons and as a result, he can show some vulnerability when having to defend in space. However, Ferdinand's positioning has still been top-notch as has his ability on the ball. Heading into the season, United would have been thrilled if the defender provided 30+ appearances across all competitions.

What we got

RIO


GS (sub)


Avg P


Pass %


LB


LB %


TKL


INT


F


AD%


Prem


26 (2)

46.4

89.6%

5.0

73.2%

1.3

1.5

0.3

56.8%

CL


3 (1)

41.5

91.0%

6.3

80.6%

0.3

1.5

0.3

62.5%

* GS = games started (substitution appearances), Avg P = average passes per game, PS% = passing accuracy percentage, LB = accurate long ball per game, LB% = long ball accuracy, TKL = tackles per game, INT = interceptions per game, F= fouls committed per game, AD% = aerial duels won percentage

Perhaps all you need to know about Rio's season is this: he made a combined 32 appearances in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League while he was also named into the PFA Team of the Year. His season was undoubtedly a success.

One of the former England international's strengths is that he partners nearly any other (quality) center-back pretty well. His partnership with Nemanja Vidic was once the world's best (and is still very good when both are fit) as the Serbian was the combative presence that would challenge for anything while Rio was the perfect compliment as a covering defender. In addition, the latter's ability on the ball gave United a unique dynamic when he would bring the ball out of the back in order to create overloads in midfield. In the latter half of this season, particularly in the Premier League, the old guard proved to be formidable defensive duo once again.

Rio is also a good partner for the younger defenders as well. In particular, his partnership with Jonny Evans has been a good one when United are involved in a match with a relatively slow-tempo and in where they are dominating possession. In past seasons, some teams have concentrated on trying to deny Rio the ball and allowing Vidic -- who isn't quite as strong in possession -- to have time and space with it. Evans has enough composure on the ball and incisiveness in his passing range where it's a bad idea to give him that same sort of time.

Perhaps Rio's only concerning weakness is something that has already been mentioned -- his declining pace. Early in the season, when United's shape was out of sorts and they were conceding goals at an alarming rate, the 34-year-old was often stranded in space when an attacker came running at him. There's no shame in letting Gareth Bale get the best of you in an exposed situation such as this, but allowing Stoke City's Michael Kightly to run straight past you was worrisome. Fortunately for United, they generally sorted themselves as the season progressed and Rio was rarely stuck in such a predicament. Credit should be given to him as well for preventing the fires before they often begin -- his lack of fouls committed and bookings on a yearly basis is absolutely phenomenal. He's rarely forced into rash challenges because of how he reads situations and because of his brilliant positioning.

United do press at times, but it's generally done against weaker opposition and not to the same cohesive extent that a Borussia Dortmund does or the way FC Barcelona did a few years ago. When Sir Alex Ferguson had his front four attackers closing down the opposition's defenders in an effort to win the ball back as high up the pitch as possible, United often were not compact in their shape because some of the defenders -- particularly Rio and Vidic -- are not entirely comfortable playing with a high line. Tactically, this is probably the only limitation a lineup with the 34-year-old presents because this can be a reason why too much space between the lines is allowed for the opposition. In 'big games' though, Sir Alex Ferguson often deployed his side to play on the counter and thus, the deep and compact United lines in these encounters limited the vertical space that Rio and the rest of his teammates had to guard.

Overall, it's been a wonderful 11th season at Old Trafford for the former United and England captain. To those who might have thought his days as an elite defender were over, he's proved them wrong -- as he has to those who also doubted that he'd never overcome his recent fitness issues. Rio is a tremendously dedicated professional footballer and he's also clearly a big presence in the dressing room -- it was quite satisfying to see him have so much success this season.

What's next?

Rio will be back for another year -- and it's not unfeasible that he could keep being offered one-year contracts if his form and fitness continue to match what he provided this season. There will be a new manager in David Moyes next season, though, so it's not a guarantee that the defender will have the same influence that he's had in the past. United do have five talented center-backs on the squad and they're all younger than Rio. Even if the 34-year-old began to significantly decline next season, he likely would still be invaluable in the dressing room -- particularly with the retirements of Fergie and Paul Scholes. Along with Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick, Patrice Evra, and Vidic, they may be the leadership core that bridges this summer's transition.

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