Comment and Analysis @nicholaspwright
Marcos Rojo comes in from the cold to impress for Manchester United
Last Updated: 11/11/15 1:34pm
Marcos Rojo's tenacious performances as Manchester United's stand-in left-back have softened the blow of losing Luke Shaw to injury, writes Nick Wright...
Five hours have passed since Manchester United last scored a goal, and Saturday's stalemate with Crystal Palace provided little evidence to suggest the floodgates are about the open. But while concerns over their toothless attack grow, so too does the stature of their defence.
United's shut-out at Selhurst Park was their seventh in 11 Premier League games. That record is unrivalled in the division, and they only need four more clean sheets to match their total for the whole of last season. United supporters won't be celebrating their defensive resolve until there is drastic improvement in the final third, but it is a source of encouragement for Louis van Gaal nonetheless.
It's good news for Marcos Rojo, too. The Argentine's days at the club appeared to be numbered after he angered Van Gaal by missing their pre-season tour of the US due to a passport mix-up. But rather than going the way of Victor Valdes, Rojo has come back into the team and regained his manager's trust.
In truth, it might be a different story had Luke Shaw not broken his leg against PSV Eindhoven last month. Rojo had not featured all season before he replaced his stricken team-mate at the Philips Stadion, and he was out of the picture again when he injured his hamstring a few days later against Southampton.
United's defensive strength
Manchester United have faced 102 shots on goal this season - only Manchester City have faced fewer.
Since then, however, Rojo's tenacious performances as United's stand-in left-back have softened the blow of losing Shaw. Daley Blind might have hoped to get the nod at left-back after losing his place in the middle, but Van Gaal's persistence with Rojo has been rewarded.
The 25-year-old marked his return to the side with a superb cross for Ander Herrera's goal in United's 3-0 win over Everton, and he has been ever present in their run of three consecutive Premier League clean sheets. Goals have been hard to come by, but keeping them out hasn't been an issue.
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Rojo was mostly used as a centre-back in his first season at United, but he has looked equally comfortable on the left. He was arguably the best player on the pitch in the Manchester derby, and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville - a man who knows a thing or two about fine full-back play - was particularly impressed by how he shut down Kevin de Bruyne.
"Before the game, I saw United's full-backs - Valencia and Rojo - as big weaknesses against De Bruyne and Sterling," he wrote in his Daily Telegraph column. "But I thought De Bruyne was completely finished in the game after 20 minutes because Rojo dealt with him brilliantly."
Van Gaal agreed. "Rojo played a very good match, not only against De Bruyne but also against Jesus Navas," he said. "He had very good passes and very good crosses so I am very satisfied with him. It is only his third game this season; he has hardly played for 90 minutes. I am very happy that at last he has the condition to play a full match."
Rojo faced another tough test against the pace and trickery of Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie at Selhurst Park. There were some uncomfortable moments in the early stages, but he kept his composure and, for the third game running, made more successful tackles (six) than any of his team-mates.
The stats show his defensive doggedness has been a consistent theme of his performances this season. He has averaged 4.3 tackles per game in the Premier League, putting him well clear of United's next most prolific tackler, Morgan Schneiderlin on 3.1.
As well as being aggressive in the tackle, Rojo reads danger well, and he also leads the way for interceptions, averaging 3.3 in his four Premier League appearances so far. No one else at United has averaged more than 2.7 this season, and it is notable that Shaw was only making 1.8 tackles and one interception per game before his injury.
Shaw's pace and dribbling ability gives him the edge on Rojo in an attacking sense, but the Argentine is also useful going forward despite being a natural centre-back. His assist against Everton was a fine example of his crossing ability, and he has shown a willingness to join the attack in each of his Premier League appearances so far.
All in all, it's been quite the turnaround. It was difficult to see a future for Rojo at United in the opening weeks of the season, but a combination of hard work and circumstance have put him back in the picture. With Shaw facing a long road to recovery, United will need his good form to continue.