Manchester United’s defensive concerns are no secret.
Despite the club’s recent progress, United’s backline is, and will continue to be, an Achilles heel in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad until it is tackled. Bringing in a top-quality center-half soon is totally necessary, but the question when they will answer that it remains.
Most fans believe they will have to do it in January if they are to take on Liverpool’s Premier League crown challenge this season, but a summer buy seems the more realistic option.
But making the most of what they have is also a source of debate. Solskjaer has fielded 11 different sets of center-backs over the course of 2020 (including all three full-backs) and supporters are still not in agreement on how best the Norwegian to set up his rearguard.
So what’s the best combination for United? And should the club bring reinforcements, which pair is the one you rely on to bolster defense?
Jones and Maguire were Ole’s preferred center-back partnership against Burnley in a 2-0 loss in January.
The fact that the two have never been chosen as a duo since says it all. Despite their physical nature, the two were beaten up by Burnley overnight. Both appear to be a disaster waiting to happen.
Phil Jones is the common thread for United’s poorest center-back pairs. Although Sir Alex Ferguson has suggested Jones could be one of the greatest of all time to wear the jersey, injuries have led to stagnation.
When the two have played together there is a calm in their game. However, defensively you won’t be backing them against the best forwards you find at the highest level.
Jones is very much on the outside watching Old Trafford, so you’d expect United to cut losses and move him in the near future.
Maguire and Tuanzebe are a couple that on paper is very promising, although it is a rarely mentioned combination.
The latter’s injury issues have made it nearly impossible for the 23-year-old to truly establish himself in the first team. However, as his strengths lie in his intelligence, pace and indeed physical presence, it won’t be long before he finds himself playing regularly at the center half for United.
As a couple, the two have a lot to learn, as evidenced by United’s embarrassing defeat in Istanbul, where Tuanzebe was sent off at the break. There is no doubt that if this pair can be allowed to play multiple games, they will become a solid duo.
Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly are a center-back duo who have been tried, tested and failed during Jose Mourinho’s tenure. Their unconvincing performances were the reason United had to look elsewhere and sign Harry Maguire for £ 80million, which only signaled the club’s desperation at the time.
More recently, however, the two have featured together twice in a flat-back four. In both Cup games the pair kept the sheets clean and United managed 3-0 away wins against Derby County and Brighton respectively.
Both deserve big applause, as a week before the League Cup win over Seagulls United they had secured a 3-2 league victory where Brighton didn’t have a chance to come away empty-handed after missing. a whole host of opportunities.
The two were dominant when they were together and compliment each other well, which suggests that the two have both matured since Mourinho’s time. The fact that they are rarely fielded as a couple, with Harry Maguire still in the league, is the reason they are not ranked higher.
Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire is United’s most common partnership with the center-back. Whether it’s injuries with other defenders or just a lot of faith in both, Solskjaer is more likely to pick them than any other combination.
Both players were among the top four players in Europe for minutes played in 2020, with United captain at the top and Lindelof in fourth. This statistic alone shows how important they are to the club and the country.
Individually, there are certain traits that mean they are extremely important to United, namely Lindelof’s reading of the game and his composure as well as Maguire’s aerial ability. Both also have an exceptional range of passage.
As a partnership however, the two are just too inconsistent and this inconsistency and vulnerability lays the foundation for a fragile team, meaning that in the future, the two may not be the best combination of full back. central as United’s ambitions grow.
For Solskjaer, Bailly and Maguire is a partnership which has now emerged as perhaps United’s most effective. Earlier this year, the duo could be seen playing in cup matches against clubs like Club Brugge and Norwich.
In recent weeks, Bailly has arrived at center-back and has proven to be the missing link United needed to bolster defense. Unlike Lindelof and Maguire, Bailly complements the United skipper better with his speed of recovery. Bailly’s pace allows United to play with more freedom to move forward, without being afraid of the ball above.
Against Everton, Leicester and Wolves in recent weeks we have seen that United can focus on creating goals rather than preventing them. The two seem to have a better understanding which is why they make the exceptional United couple.
That said, however, they’re still the combination that left six against Spurs at the start of the season, which suggests the pair are by no means a partnership between Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, which begs the question. : Will United rest on their laurels or use their recent form as an opportunity to bolster their defense? We will have a response soon enough as the transfer window opens.