Manchester United’s defence has received criticism but is it really that bad?

Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United have only conceded 11 goals in the Premier League. Joint least with Liverpool and Manchester City. Given that Manchester City have the most expensively assembled defence in historyand Liverpool boast the player of the season Virgil van Dijk at centre back. It begs the question as to whether some of United’s defensive players deserve more credit?

Solskjaer’s preferred back four has consisted of Ashley Young, Phil Jones, Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw. Of that back four Young has been scapegoated the most. However a look into stats reveal he has a tackle success rate better than Chris Smallingand Eric Baillythis season. Very surprising given that both made their trade as defensive players. 

Ironically for a player who made his career as a tricky winger, it is his crossing that is lacking. In the current Premier League campaign, Young completes just 1.4 crosses per game. Compare this with Tottenham Hotspur has Kieran Trippier who completes 2.1 per game and you can understand the frustration.

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United attack predominantly down the left so there is often space to be exploited on the right. The Old Trafford faithful will be praying he can channel his inner winger leading into the defining months of the season.

On the other flank, Shaw has been having his best ever season. His contribution of one goal and six assists has been his most productive to date. He has been formidable defensively too. Nullifying some of Europe’s best attacking talent, in the Paris Saint-Germain clash, Kylian Mbappe looked a shadow of himself. Similarly, Mohamed Salah was subbed off with Liverpool chasing a goal at Old Trafford. Shaw the common denominator in both scenarios.  

To put Shaw’s career into to perspective, his tackle success rate is 76%. Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk’s is 73%. His defensive statistics put him amongst the best. If he has another gear to step into this is a worrying prospect for United’s rival fans. 

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United centre-backs Jones and Smalling have been a comedy duo to many. Smalling recently signed a new United Contract until 2022.  But have United tied down the wrong centre back? Although Jones is often injured, when he is fit United concede less. Over the last two seasons when Jones plays United concede an average of 0.6 goals a game. When Smalling plays they concede an average of 1.02. Food for thought for Solskjaer. 

It’s clear to see United would benefit from the signing of a dominant centre back. Positives can be taken from Victor Lindelof’s emergence as a fine ball playing centre half. Furthermore 19-year-old full back Diogo Dalot has impressed when he has featured. 

The clear weakness in the squad shouldn’t undermine some of the performances their current crop has put in this year. One big signing done correctly could make all the difference. It pains United fans to look at Merseyside and see a glaring example of this.

Written by Chris Barnes

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