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Manchester United Player Season Review 2016/17: The Defence

Manchester United did not have the best of seasons during the 2016/17 campaign which commenced in high spirits with Jose Mourinho replacing Louis van Gaal as the manager, with the Portuguese former Chelsea and Real Madrid manager bringing in Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba as his four summer signings, Pogba being the current world record signing which could be eclipsed and even surpassed this summer if reports are to be believed. Mourinho had instilled the winning mentality into his new club just weeks after be became the manager, pushing for big changes from the start of the season. United started off by beating Leicester City to win the FA Community Shield, the first of many trophies under Mourinho, which turned out the be the case only in the first season.

United started well in the league, winning their first three matches, but a three-match losing streak then turned the season upside down, losing two Premier League matches and one in the UEFA Europa League. United found their feet again, but the ups and downs kept coming. Too many draws in the Premier League, most of them at home became a problem for United, which contributed in their sixth-placed finish, a first for the club who had finished seventh (David Moyes), fourth and fifth (Louis van Gaal) post-Sir Alex Ferguson. The season had a different feeling to it though, something was being built for the future, Mourinho was bringing United back to the helm just like Ferguson did in the 1990’s.

Of course, Rome was not built in a day, but things are changing. United ended the season with two more trophies; the EFL Cup, beating Southampton 3-2 at Wembley at the end of February and the UEFA Europa League, beating Ajax 2-0 in Sweden, more importantly earning a UEFA Champions League group stage place next season, the minimum requirement for Mourinho and his team. The season reviews have been written for the Premier League, EFL Cup, Emirates FA Cup, and the UEFA Europa League now it is the player’s turn to be reviewed and rated, moving onto the defenders.

Eric Bailly

The £30 million man who many did not know of when he arrived at Manchester United last summer. £30 million for an unknown many said. I remember the same criticisms when Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra rolled up at the Theatre of Dreams. The Ivorian was tipped to be one for the future by Jose Mourinho, but he turned into one for the now too. Bailly fits in at Manchester United like a hand into a glove. Did what was expected and showed the aggression needed to play at the back. Bailly has played in the right-back position too, but centrally he is much better. The arrival of Victor Lindelof this summer will be a big boost for Bailly, he will not have to be relied upon as much as he was during the past season, which is good for the player who will get some rest, but he will also form a partnership with the Swedish international, which could bode well for the club, securing the defence and pushing from the back, ensuring that late goals are not conceded, with United looking to turn their home draws into victories, which is important if the club wants to challenge in the Premier League next season, which will be a must.

Appearances: Premier League: 25, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 1, UEFA Europa League: 11, FA Community Shield: 1; Total: 38

Goals: Premier League: 0, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 0

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 7, Red Cards: 2

Season Rating: 4/5

Phil Jones

This was the season Phil Jones was to return to his best, and at a point, it looked like he was getting there, then injury struck, again. Jones has been plagued with injury for almost all of his career at United, signing from Blackburn Rovers in 2011. Partnered with Marcos Rojo at a point over the last season, Jones was playing well, improving and impressing at times. There was still a long way to go, but at least he was heading in the right direction. Jones is the better option compared to Chris Smalling, in my opinion at least and if one was to leave this summer, I would give Jones another chance to show what he could do, making a decision at the end of the coming season. Mourinho likes Jones, injuries have been a problem, but this one saw those less serious. Jones has been at United for six years, Smalling seven, so allowing him the same amount of time could well prove to be a good decision. United need English players in the team and getting rid of both Jones and Smalling could well be a mistake.

Appearances: Premier League: 18, Emirates FA Cup: 2, EFL Cup: 3, UEFA Europa League: 3, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 26

Goals: Premier League: 0, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 0

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 3, Red Cards: 0

Season Rating: 2.5/5

Marcos Rojo

The Argentinian central defender was tipped to leave the Old Trafford club last summer, but he put his head down, concentrated on his football and became a resurgent player, partnering Phil Jones during part of the season, nicknamed RoJones, then forming a better partnership with Eric Bailly. Rojo earned his place on the team this season, and his place heading into next season. The fact he can play at left-back and in a more central role will be a big bonus. Victor Lindelof will add more competition for places, but with Rojo suffering a serious knee injury back in April, the fact that he probably will not play again in 2017 will see the Swedish international partner Bailly, forming a strong partnership, which will take a lot of work to break into for Rojo, but saying that it will give Mourinho another option at the back, as will Daley Blind. Rojo should remain at the Old Trafford club this summer, he is far too important to let go. Not that it is rumoured he will leave this summer, he can’t being that he is injured.

Appearances: Premier League: 21, Emirates FA Cup: 4, EFL Cup: 5, UEFA Europa League: 10, FA Community Shield: 1; Total: 41

Goals: Premier League: 1, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 1

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 5, Red Cards: 0

Season Rating: 3.5/5

Chris Smalling

Chris Smalling is a player who could well be sold this summer, which is what many would like to see. Under Louis van Gaal, the England international played well, and at a time was considered the best central defender at the club. Fast forward a year, that is no longer the case. Eric Bailly has that crown now, with Marcos Rojo also performing well under Mourinho, pushing the almost always injured pairing of Smalling and Phil Jones onto the sidelines, a place they have spent a lot of time over the past six or seven seasons. Smalling played well in the UEFA Europa League final against Ajax, which should not be suggested that he ended his season well. His was poor the majority of the time, criticised but his manager for not playing through the pain barrier, returning just at the right time after Bailly was ruled out of the final because he was sent off in the semi-final second leg. Smalling is not the guy that could replace Rio Ferdinand or even Nemanja Vidic. The arrival of Victor Lindelof could show him the door, here’s hoping. I am thankful for what Smalling has done at the club, but post-Sir Alex Ferguson, he has been a player who is yet to rise and lead the team, I not sure he could lead the team.

Appearances: Premier League: 18, Emirates FA Cup: 4, EFL Cup: 4, UEFA Europa League: 10, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 36

Goals: Premier League: 1, Emirates FA Cup: 1, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 2

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 0, Red Cards: 0

Season Rating: 2.5/5

Daley Blind

The Dutch international had a good second season at United, playing well as a central defensive player, rather than the left-back or even left-wing-back he had played in under Louis van Gaal. The player was paired with Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Eric Bailly during the season, partnering Bailly for the last few weeks of the season after Rojo suffered a severe knee injury, ruling him out for the rest of the season and probably the rest of 2017. Blind may not be the best at what he does but he has the eye needed to play football, able to read the game well and do what is needed most of the time. Blind should remain at the club this coming summer, as he is an option. With Mourinho signing Victor Lindelof, which should go through this coming week, Bailly will have a partner for much of United’s matches, but the pair will also be split up in times where United will need to rotate, which will be for much of the season with United back in the Champions League and fighting on three domestic fronts.

Appearances: Premier League: 24, Emirates FA Cup: 1, EFL Cup: 3, UEFA Europa League: 11, FA Community Shield: 1; Total: 40

Goals: Premier League: 1, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 1

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 4, Red Cards: 0

Season Rating: 3.5/5

Luke Shaw

Luke Shaw has not had a great time at Manchester United. His first season was plagued by injury and a lack of fitness stopping him from breaking into the team. After the dust settled, the new season came with Shaw putting in extra training to get ready, starting well. A double leg fracture ended his season just over a month in, which devastated the player. Shaw was ready to start his third season, this time under a new manager, Jose Mourinho. The supporters were raring for Shaw to have a good season, but that was not going to be the case. Injuries, lack of form and problems with his fitness and mentality plagued his season. Shaw eventually got his chance to make his manager happy, doing well but suffering a new injury, which saw him end the season on crutches, something which will also see him miss pre-season and quite possibly a chance to secure his place at left-back at the start of the new season, especially with the likes of Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Joe Riley and Demetri Mitchell waiting in the wings, which could add more disappointment to Shaw’s United career, but he is young and talented enough to persevere and break through, providing he can avoid injury, which has been the main thing he has suffered since signing for Manchester United.

Appearances: Premier League: 11, Emirates FA Cup: 1, EFL Cup: 2, UEFA Europa League: 4, FA Community Shield: 1; Total: 19

Goals: Premier League: 0, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 0

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 1, Red Cards: 0

Season Rating: 2.5/5

Timothy Fosu-Mensah

Timothy Fosu-Mensah really should have played more during the last season, making a total of eleven appearances across all competitions. I am not sure what his favoured position is, whether it be at right-back, playing second fiddle to Antonio Valencia, or as a defensive midfielder, possibly the replacement for Michael Carrick, who signed a new contract in the last few weeks. The Dutch international certainly has a good future ahead of him. I am sure United and Mourinho will have plans for the youngster, who did not play any U23 football last season, seemingly earmarked to get him ready for the next season, which is hopefully the case. The player is good at what he does, he is already a fans favourite. A loan spell could well be coming for him, but I would like to see him remain at United and utilised in whatever position he wants to play in, seeing him rise through the first team and cement a starting place. Him, Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera in a midfield three could be something to salivate in the years to come.

Appearances: Premier League: 4, Emirates FA Cup: 2, EFL Cup: 1, UEFA Europa League: 4, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 11

Goals: Premier League: 0, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 0

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 1, Red Cards: 0

Season Rating: 3/5

Antonio Valencia

For me the Ecuadorian was the Player of the Season for Manchester United, something thought by his peers as he was awarded the Player’s Player of the Season, but Ander Herrera was chosen by the supporters of the club, winning the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Season. Valencia turned a point under Mourinho, not being all that good defensively under Louis van Gaal, but under the Portuguese manager, he changed and could well have been the best right-back in the Premier League last season. Valencia signed a new contract earlier in the summer, which will surely mean he will keep his place, but cover will be needed throughout the season to keep him fresh, which there seems to be a lot of at the club right now with Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Axel Tuanzebe and some other talented youth coming through the ranks. Mourinho could also opt to bring in cover during the transfer window. Valencia has a few years left at the top and being resurgent as he was in the last season, he could be the difference between United winning the league next season.

Appearances: Premier League: 29, Emirates FA Cup: 1, EFL Cup: 3, UEFA Europa League: 9, FA Community Shield: 1; Total: 43

Goals: Premier League: 1, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 1, UEFA Europa League: 3, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 1

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 7, Red Cards: 0

Season Rating: 4.5/5

Matteo Darmian

The Italian defender had a chance to show what he could do under another manager, a chance to bring back his form from his first few matches for United, which saw him being compared to Gary Neville. That changes with performances not being all that good throughout his debut season, much the same this time, but injuries to Luke Shaw and the fact that Daley Blind was also covering for injuries to central defensive players, Matteo Darmian played at left-back for much of the season. He was not the best player in that position, but certainly not the worst either. Darmian may very well leave the club this summer with Mourinho looking for a side capable of challenging in the Premier League, the only competition they fell short of last season, but if he stays, he will be a valuable squad player, one which could seek a chance to become a starter, but that would depend on a few things, one being the fitness of Antonio Valencia who is the best right-back United have, despite him being a right-winger.

Appearances: Premier League: 18, Emirates FA Cup: 2, EFL Cup: 2, UEFA Europa League: 7, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 29

Goals: Premier League: 0, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 0

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 3, Red Cards: 0

Season Rating: 3/5

Axel Tuanzebe

Axel Tuanzebe was praised by Jose Mourinho near enough as soon as he became the manager, giving him his first team debut during pre-season on a trip to Wigan Athletic. The manager stated that giving him ten minutes was enough to see his qualities, suggesting that this season would be the season he would break through. It was but it was towards the end of the season where he was thrown into the first team, covering as a right-back with Antonio Valencia being rested against Arsenal, dealing with the threat of Alexis Sanchez very well. Tuanzebe then played out of position in midfield against Tottenham Hotspur, not playing his best game, which was understandable with him playing out of position. The player was utilised against Southampton and Crystal Palace also, as well as playing once in the Emirates FA Cup. Tuanzebe now knows what will be expected of him and with Marcos Rojo being injured for much of the coming season, along with new defensive acquisition Victor Lindelof, Tuanzebe could well find another chance to show the manager what he can do, keeping his defence rested in a bid to do much better next season, in the Premier League at least.

Appearances: Premier League: 4, Emirates FA Cup: 1, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 5

Goals: Premier League: 0, Emirates FA Cup: 0, EFL Cup: 0, UEFA Europa League: 0, FA Community Shield: 0; Total: 0

Discipline: Yellow Cards: 0, Red Cards: 0

Season Rating: 3/5

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