Manchester United: Defensive assessment
After Premier League success for Manchester United, we look at their defensive issues
Manchester United won a 20th league title beating Aston Villa by three goals to nil on Monday night, however the plans for next season will be well under way.
So what is left for United fans to distract themselves with? It could be an analysis of the players in the squad and if they are capable of continuing success for years to come.
Here we will give a defensive assessment to Manchester United's back-line.
Assessing the current defence:
Much has been made in recent times about the decline of Patrice Evra at full-back, but the reality is that he has made more appearances this season than any other Old Trafford defender - and played well.
In a season that began calamitously at the back, United's 'Against' column, Evra's rediscovery of form since the team's early season jitters suggests an experienced head and part-time captain stepping up to lead the way.
Additionally, with investments in the left-back berth recently made in one form or another with the arrival of Alexander Büttner and the loan of Fàbio, the reality of a swoop for Everton's 28-year-old Leighton Baines is most likely one summer too late.
On the right-hand side, Rafael must be allowed to develop into the fullback he has always promised to become, ably assisted by any one from a strong list of players from a large defensive pool who are able to slot in as an auxiliary right-back from time to time.
As good as Evra's form has been for most of this season, there are few people in football who would pinpoint the primacy of full-backs over the centre-halves when it comes to tightening up the number of goals conceded by a team.
The transformation of Jonny Evans from 'accident-waiting-to-happen' to 'decent squad player' has arguably had a more direct bearing on the defensive solidity of a backline that, for much of the season, has been shorn of its twin giants, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
The Silk and Steel combination that - fifteen years later - finally replaced the famed 'Dolly and Daisy' partnership of Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister (though Fergie has never revealed which one was which) and that formed the bedrock upon which the ascents to three UEFA Champions' League Finals in four calendar years, it would be only the most optimistic of fans who would place their faith in the Rio and Vidic backbone appearing together for much more than 25 games in season 2013/14.
Yet the truth is that they cannot both be replaced at the once, and - as commendable as Evans' form has been and as promising as Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are when they also aren't in the same treatment room as Ferdinand - a ready-made first-team centre back for one of them is required by the Old Trafford outfit well before the transfer deadline day.
The criteria for this mystery defender are therefore the following; he must be a central defender, who has played at a high level, has gone a long way to developing their significant potential, is both physically strong and preferably skilful with the ball, and represents good value for money.
Assessing the defensive targets:
Eliaquim Mangala (FC Porto)
Only 22-years-old, the still-physically-developing Parisian plying his profession in Portugal seems to be a hot commodity ahead of this summer’s player merry-go-round. A pillar of strength in the heart of the tightest defence in the domestic European leagues, where Porto have been solid as you like at the back, Mangala is also being eyed by Roberto Mancini and would prove a valuable acquisition to either Manchester team.
Mangala, like Evans, is a left-footed stopper and would slot in as a direct replacement for Nemanja Vidic next to a more ball-playing sweeper. Given Vidic appears to be over his recent knee problems and is back to full strength, however, it is unlikely that the current captain is quite ready to be replaced in his position as the team’s immovable object, even at 31 years of age.
Coupled with Ferguson’s faith in Evans and what can only be hoped as an injury-free term ahead for the promising pair of Smalling and Jones, it would be a surprise should the fleet-footed Mangala be the defensive option upon, which United may need to spend in excess of £15m.
Another couple of players Ferguson could be interested in are Ecuadorian Frickson Erazo and the Brazilian Dede, however these players are equally unlikely to come link-up at Old Trafford.
Ezequiel Garay (SL Benfica)
Tall, elegant, quick, strong. Remind you of someone? It is little wonder that Garay has been linked with United in a season when 34-year-old Rio Ferdinand has had to begin managing his amount of game time.
Previously unable to break into a talented Real Madrid squad, the now 26-year-old Argentine has developed into a player capable of making that step back up into the European elite.
His progress at Benfica proves what an extended opportunity and a manager’s confidence can do for a talented player who was practically discarded by Real Madrid in part exchange for a paltry reported £4.5m – not a bad return when the generally quoted figure for his services is around five times that.
Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund)
Europe continues to be impressed by a Dortmund side that has cannily made its way into the semi finals of this season’s UEFA Champions’ League where they are to be joined by the three strongest teams in Europe over the last couple of years, and Hummels has undoubtedly been the defensive lynchpin around which the team’s counter-attacking style is predicated.
Even at up to £25m – a figure, it must be remembered, that still falls five million short of the sum paid for Rio as long ago as 2002 – the 24-year-old is surely Ferguon’s best and safest bet for what must be his first and most important position for which to recruit this coming summer.
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