Written by John Kent
The Manchester United defence is a strange subject at the moment; despite having the joint best goals conceded stat in the Barclays Premier League last year, it would seem only De Gea and Smalling will remain in the team.
credit Ignacio Palomo Duarte
Little needs to be said about the goalkeeper situation. The famous fax machine incident has perhaps been the best thing to happen to the red half of Manchester over the last couple of seasons, and De Gea seems re-enamoured with the idea of committing his future to the club following the sacking of Van Gaal, who he never saw eye to eye with from the word go. In terms of back up, I would be surprised to see Romero go anywhere, especially considering his agent is Woodward’s new best friend Raiola. In the youth team, it is worth keeping a close eye on Pereira, who will be in the Portugal squad for the Olympics, and was very impressive in the Toulon Tournament.
On the left side of the defence we have in my view the best talent in the Premier League in Luke Shaw. Had it not been for that horrendous leg break, I feel we would be in the Champions League this year, not least because of the relationship he had with Memphis Depay, who struggled thereafter. Expect to see him bombing down the Old Trafford flank for years to come. Rojo in my mind has to go. Whilst he shows a passion for the club, he has never been able to produce the form shown for Argentina in the 2014 World Cup, barring the odd good cross here and there. We should be looking to get £10-15 million for him. I also expect to see Blind move from central defence to left back to act as cover, which he is certainly capable of doing, and again provides a great option for the overlap cross into the box – what he lacks in speed he makes up for in intelligence. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson looks a talent, though the latest suggestion is that he will go out on loan.
Right back is a real issue for Manchester United, and it is no surprise to me that Fabinho is being strongly linked with a €30m move from Monaco, on the recommendation of non other the Jose Mourinho. Darmian initially looked very good in the side, but like many struggled as the season went on, perhaps flummoxed by Van Gaal’s tactics, and Mourinho is known to be not convinced by him defensively. One player who may be given a chance is Jones; Jose has always liked strong right backs defensively if you look at Ivanovic for Chelsea, but he will have to prove his fitness. Fosu-Mensah could also provide cover, though I would like to see him further up the field. The same can be said for Antonio Valencia, who proved last night with his three assists that he may be regaining some of the from shown on the right wing back in 2010 – hopefully the right back experiment is over!
This of course leaves the centre of defence, and pre-season has really shown that we cannot rest on what we’ve got, with both goals agains Galatasaray being readily avoidable.. I personally like Chris Smalling, and think since his disaster in the derby a couple of seasons ago, he has gone on to make himself England’s number one choice. Mourinho will want a physical presence next to him, which is why he has invested such a large amount on Eric Bailly from Villarreal. Bailly’s form at the Spanish Champions League side certainly makes impressive reading, not least the fact that neither Ronaldo nor Messi scored in games he took part in, a notable achievement within La Liga. He also won an impressive 52% of his tackles, higher then that of Mustafi, whom Arsenal are being so heavily linked with, in the La Liga last year. I mentioned in a previous piece Mourinho’s enthusiasm to work with the young defender, as he has likened him to former protégé at Real Madrid, Varane, who he believes is particularly similar in terms of pace and power. This is particularly relevant considering stories are currently doing the rounds that Bailly turned down overtures from Manchester City due to his desire to work under the new Red Devil’s boss.
United fans can also be encouraged by recent work done by their new manager with Kurt Zouma, another athletic, muscular defender. This excitement should not cloud our judgement though, as he will be prone to mistakes in his first year in particular as he adapts to the Premier League, and Mourinho in particular will urge patience. It is because of this I feel Mourinho may very well dip his toe back in the market for another defender, more experienced defender.
credit Nazionale Calcio
Both at Inter and Real Madrid, and also at Chelsea, Mourinho has loved experience in defence, whether being Walter Samuel, Pepe, Terry, or Carvalho, and it is a player of these standards that he may look to bring in. Candidates are not obvious from the off, with the names being branded around at the moment Fonte, Garay, and Bonnuci, all through the man seemingly becoming Mourinho’s mouthpiece, Duncan Castles. The latter is arguably the best option of the three, whilst Fonte brings invaluable Premier League experience, alongside the confidence from being part of the winning Portugal side at the Euros. Garay is an interesting choice, and has been linked strongly with United in the past, as well as Chelsea when Mourinho was in charge. From the little I have seen of him he is a physical presence, who is more then apt bringing the ball out of defence. Unfortunately United fans should hold little hope of getting hold of Bonucci, a player who represents everything Juventus have become, and for whom the club have already turned down interest from both City and Chelsea.
Ultimately though, there is no obvious choice, and Mourinho will be hard at work thinking who he could bring in should he not be satisfied by the end of the month – sadly, I would agree with Paul Scholes on this one, that Phil Jones possibly does not have the match intelligence to fill this role.
Is Manchester United’s defence strong enough to challenge for the title? What players would you like to see come in? Let us know in the comments below!