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The solution to Manchester United's defensive problems

Thursday 9th August 2018

As the transfer window draws to a close, Manchester United's search for a new central defender seems to have stagnated. The original order for this summer was at least one midfielder - depending on Marouane Fellaini's fate - a right, left and centre back, as well as a backup striker. United have covered only two of those five requirements. 

Twitter is on overload as media continues to speculate regarding Toby Alderweireld, Harry Maguire, Yerry Mina, and most recently Diego Godin. Fans are reacting in different ways. Some bark #MourinhoOut and #GlazersOut, while others question the need for signing a central defender. After all, Man United had the Premier League's second-best defensive record last season.

Manchester City conceded the least goals, with United shipping in just one more. However, that record was largely due to David de Gea's masterclass. Without him, the Red Devils were nowhere near having a respectable defence. 

Lacking a stable defensive pairing 

Last season, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones started as the first-choice centre-back duo. Not long after, the Ivory Coast international got injured. The Englishman soon joined him on the physio table. Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof took up the mantle. Jones then returned to reclaim his place.    

Bailly missed 36 competitive games last campaign. Jones was absent for 14 matches and Marcos Rojo 31. In comparison to 2007-08, when Man United won the Premier and Champions League, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic missed only six games between them.  

Without a stable defensive pairing, it's difficult to create momentum. Whoever comes into the starting line-up needs time to adjust. As a result, keeping players fit is one of the key issues for Jose Mourinho's team. Chris Smalling, Rojo and Bailly have all suffered injuries during this pre-season. It's not an encouraging start. 

No proven commanding centre-back

Mourinho mostly used Smalling and Jones last season. While a key reason for that was a lack of fit players, another is the Portuguese coach has no Premier League proven alternative.  

Smalling and Jones have spent a combined 15 years at Old Trafford. Although both are susceptible to occasional clangers, they can each rise to the challenge on their day. Mourinho, however, wants more. He demands an air-tight defence.  

Neither Smalling nor Jones are prime candidates to form such an impenetrable wall. That's why Alderweireld and Maguire are key targets for the upcoming campaign. Unfortunately for Mourinho, there's a duality in the transfer market. Other clubs are quoted one price tag, while Man United's is significantly higher. Quite possibly due to their ability to pay big.  

As a result, both Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City have played hardball. With the window entering it's final few hours, it seems unlikely United's main targets will join. Should they get Barcelona's Mina, instead of Alderweireld or Maguire, it doesn't solve their problem.    

In Smalling, the Red Devils already have a centre back who is good both aerially and at set pieces. Lindelof is able to carry the ball into midfield. United need a proven, solid defender. Without one, problems will continue to persist. 

The Solution 

Ed Woodward and co will be overcharged on each occasion. Man United aren't Paris Saint-Germain. Paying extortionate fees every transfer window isn't feasible. At the same time, even with a fully fit squad, Bailly, Jones and Smalling aren’t the best options.

The Old Trafford faithful would breathe a huge sigh of relief if Lindelof developed into a quality ball-playing centre-back. Bailly would sit alongside, covering the Swede and perfecting last-ditch tackles. 

Another option. Mourinho could use Timothy Fosu-Mensah to solve problems. The Dutch youngster put up impressive displays in pre-season, playing as a right-sided centre-back in a 3-5-2 formation.  

Originally a right-back, Fosu-Mensah has enough pace, determination and technical nouse to adapt. Mourinho should use what's already available, helping create a defence to his liking. Woodward would be more than happy to save money by focusing on improving youth. The most important thing now is for United to give prospects a chance.    

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Sayantan Dasgupta

Sayantan is a professional writer and freelance sports journalist writing for ItsRoundandItsWhite.co.uk, RealSports101, Sportskeeda and Open Veins of Football. He loves covering the Premier League and the Indian Super League and follows Manchester United and ATK (ISL).

He appreciates pragmatic football and unlike most, understands that the football's beauty lies not only in attack, but the balance between defense and attack. However, he does not forget the love, the flair, and drama of football. When not engulfed in the Premier League or the ISL, he loves to watch Italian Serie A and La Liga.

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