Does Marcos Rojo hold the key to Manchester United's defensive solidity?
Image used under Creative Commons. Via: Soccer.RU.
Jose Mourinho's Manchester United this season have been mightily un-Mourinho like. The Red Devils have shipped goals galore, which likely all stems from the failure to invest in a new centre-half during the summer.
With Eric Bailly making mistakes, Phil Jones always injured and Chris Smalling being his usual average self, problems were always going to arise. Sure, there's the ever-improving Victor Lindelof, but he's now out injured too... Then came the timely return to action for Marcos Rojo, who put himself through the pain barrier to get himself back out on the field for United's home game against Arsenal.
The Old Trafford showdown was the Argentinian's first appearance in 2018/19. Although he looked rusty, we immediately saw glimpses of the form that made him a Mourinho mainstay during the self-proclaimed Special One's debut season. He was front-footed, committed, aggressive and tough. Had United's Portuguese boss rediscovered his 'Mad Dog'?
Now 28, Rojo is amongst the more senior members of the squad. The former Sporting CP player had turned into the forgotten man after suffering injury-following-injury since the ACL problem he picked up in the Europa League semi-final back in 2016, but now, it feels like the worst is behind him and he's working his way back to fitness to help United drag themselves back into the top-four mix.
Rojo has a unique skill that makes him so vital to United. Desire. I know what you're thinking, that should be a given when you're playing for the biggest club in the world, but his passion to come out on the right end is unmatched within the Red Devils' current crop of defenders.
We saw his fire in the first half of the clash against Arsenal. The Gunners had won possession back in their own box and were looking to counter, step forward Rojo, who would hack down Aaron Ramsey with a crunching tackle, picking up a yellow card in the process. That fiery nature is why the fans love him so much. He's willing to put his body on the line for the cause.
While the other central defenders at Mourinho's disposal keep making mistakes, Rojo has been given his opportunity to cement his place back in the team. With the right partner, United's #16 has proven that he has what it takes to help this side keep clean sheets; which have become a real problem over the last few months.
For me, I'd love to see the Bailly-Rojo combination, but due to Mourinho's unnerving stubbornness, it doesn't look as though the Ivorian is going to get a regular run in the team following his early-season mistakes. That's a conversation for another day entirely, though...
With the fixtures coming thick and fast over the winter period, Rojo will likely be in and out of the team as the fitness continues to build. Coming through the Christmas season unscathed would be massive for him both mentally and physically, and going into the second half of the campaign when United will be looking to push up the table, I firmly believed Mourinho should be putting all his defensive eggs in a Rojo shaped basket...