Rio Ferdinand may be surplus to requirements for Roy Hodgson, but his Manchester United team-mates are thankful to have him around.
Again left out of the England squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, Ferdinand was on the right track in Newcastle. Afforded more protection by United's new diamond formation than he got the previous weekend against Tottenham's speedsters, Ferdinand showed he remains a class act in a 3-0 win.
"Rio is quality," said defensive colleague Jonny Evans. "He is so experienced. He cruises through games."
However, Sir Alex Ferguson is doubtless glad Hodgson has chosen a different route given the delicate nature of his defensive resources, even when Chris Smalling gets ready to return from his broken metatarsal after the international break.
The defence of Hodgson's position, if not by him then by others who share the same opinion, has brought criticism Tom Cleverley cannot fathom.
"Rio has had one bad game in six months," said the midfielder, who scored United's brilliant third, even if his manager insists he did not mean it.
"We have conceded a few goals and made a few silly mistakes this season. But I couldn't believe some of the stuff I have read about Rio in midweek. He has definitely not deserved that."
Repelling the threat of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse should provide a welcome confidence boost for United after their disastrous attempts to subdue Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon during that damaging home defeat by Tottenham eight days previously.
The ease with which Spurs cut straight down the middle of United's midfield at Old Trafford prompted a tactical rethink from Sir Alex Ferguson that involved Wayne Rooney adopting a deep-lying midfield role.
"The diamond closes off the midfield," he said. "Your only problem is when the ball goes out wide because you need to be aware of how far your midfield gets separated."
- Rio Ferdinand
- Roy Hodgson
- Sir Alex Ferguson
- Manchester United