Evra discusses competition for places
Manchester United left-back Patrice Evra wants his team to build the barricades around their goal once more. After opening the campaign by combining a thrilling goal blitz with generally steady performances at the back, United suddenly found themselves beset by problems.
Three goals given away in the UEFA Champions League against Swiss underdogs Basle marked the low point of a five-game run where they uncharacteristically claimed just a single clean sheet. United did manage to keep Norwich City out immediately prior to the international break, but there was more than an element of good fortune about that.
With old rivals Liverpool and title contenders Manchester City their next two opponents, no further lapses can be accepted. And Evra has demanded high standards ahead of the Anfield trip.
"I want us to go back to the way we were playing before the Chelsea game," said the Frenchman. "We have to defend together, be very compact and not give our opponents too many chances. I was disappointed after the Chelsea game because they created a lot of chances and if it had finished 4-4, no-one could have said anything."
The anticipated return of skipper Nemanja Vidic from a calf injury should strengthen United at the back. Rio Ferdinand should also have renewed focus given the explicit warning from England manager Fabio Capello that unless he regains full fitness, and keeps his place in Sir Alex Ferguson's team, he can forget about appearing at UEFA EURO 2012.
However, merely being fit guarantees nothing. Not with the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans providing such stiff competition.
And it does not end there either. Brazilian twins Rafael and Fabio have already proved themselves more than capable at fullback. Danny Welbeck has just won his second England cap after scoring five times for United - a figure only exceeded by Wayne Rooney. And Tom Cleverley has just been handed a four-year contract extension as deserved reward for his impressive early-season performances.
Little wonder Evra is feeling vulnerable. "I'm only 30 but I feel like the oldest player in the team," he said. "I just have to show the young players that I'm still here and I want to play every game.
"I need to prove I am still fit because they are young. Maybe they have more energy and think they can steal my place. Of course, though, you also have to help them and talk to them if anything is wrong. We are here to protect them and to show them that it's easy to reach the top, but to stay there is the most difficult thing.
"But before we can say anything to the young players, we have to show our own example on the pitch because the competition is really fierce. The boss is not afraid to put the young lads in and it's working well."