Manchester United have finally announced their third signing of the summer, Argentinian defender Marcos Rojo. The left-sided player announced himself on the international stage at this summers World Cup in Brazil, where he starred for Argentina in their run to the final. His performances were so impressive he was named in the Opta Team of the Tournament, which is determined on 250 different statistical events, and Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone was among many praising the 24-year-old for his performances at the tournament. Simeone said:
“Rojo won the hearts of the Argentines at the World Cup. He was very good both attacking and defending. [Alejandro] Sabella put his trust in him and he responded really well. He had an excellent World Cup and was the best left-back among the four semi-finalists.”
Despite his impressive form as a left back this summer, he was primarily used as a centre back for his former club Sporting Lisbon. His positional flexibility gives Louis van Gaal multiple options defensively, as he can clearly operate in multiple positions and formations.
First and foremost, Rojo will provide much-needed defensive cover to the threadbare Manchester United squad. He will bring european and international experience to an area of the team which needs it the most, following the departures of Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic this summer. Whether playing as a centre-back or a left-back, the Argentinian will bring much-needed balance to a defensive unit that is almost exclusively right-footed. As a very capable footballer technically, Rojo should have no problem adapting to Louis van Gaal’s philosophy.
Should van Gaal want to utilise Rojo in the 3-5-2 formation that we have grown accustomed to seeing this season, then there are two roles which would be perfect for him. He has all the attributes to fill the left centre-back position, particularly as he becomes only the second left-footed central defender in the squad alongside Tyler Blackett, and will provide much-needed balance to the back line.
As the left-sided defender in this system, Rojo would not be completely devoid of attacking responsibility which would suit his natural game well. In this position he would be expected to link up with the central midfield players and contribute to possession and ball retention. Furthermore, in attacking situations his technical ability would allow him to join the attack in a more orthodox left-back position when the left-wing back pushes forward into a more advanced role. This of course becomes a possibility in this system because of the cover provided by the other two central defenders, who can cover round to remain the defensive partnership that takes up positions similar to that of a conventional back four.
Defensively, the left centre-back role seems tailor-made for Rojo’s attributes as well. Rojo is an aggressive defender, keen to win the ball early rather than standing off the attacking with a more measured approach. Should he get caught out of position trying to win the ball back in this way, there are two other centre-backs to cover him. This system will be the most beneficial for the player until he comes to terms with the pace of the Premier League, and masters his aggressive defensive style so that he doesn’t jeopardise his own teams defensive efforts. Rojo also suits the left centre-back role due to his speed across the ground. A back three is most susceptible to passes down the side of them, into the space that would usually be occupied by the full-backs in a conventional back four. Rojo’s pace, coupled with his experience of playing at full-back, means he is capable of defending in wide areas, and will be able to handle the threat from wingers and wide forwards that try to exploit the weaknesses of a back three.
Although likely to be understudy to Luke Shaw in this position, Marcos Rojo would be an able deputy at left wing-back. Like Shaw, Rojo is more than capable in attacking situations and playing in the wing-back role would allow him to flourish in an offensive capacity. As he demonstrated at the World Cup, Rojo has the engine to get up and down the touch-line throughout the 90 minutes, and has the ability to make an impact in the final third. His technical proficiency and his eye for goal means he can be a real threat in advanced areas of the field, either as a goalscorer or as a provider of goalscoring opportunities for his teammates.
As well as the potential benefits he may bring to the team in this position, the competition he will provide should bring the best out of Luke Shaw. We have seen the deterioration of Patrice Evra’s performances over the last few years when largely unopposed for selection, and the competition between Rojo and Shaw, as well as the rest of the defenders in United’s squad, should mean we see the best of them over the course of the next few years.
Of course this is without considering his role in a back four. Despite playing a back three throughout pre-season, van Gaal changed the system against Swansea when he saw the team needed it. This would suggest he is happy to play with a back four in certain situations this seasons. It wouldn’t change much for Rojo, he would be an option for both left-back and centre-back, but both roles would require a change in discipline for the defender. With a back four, neither position leaves as much scope for Rojo’s attacking potential. Whilst full-backs will still attack almost constantly, it would be a different role to that of a wing-back, and centrally he must stay organised with his partner and would not be able to leave them isolated by joining in with attacking situations.
I genuinely believe that Marcos Rojo all turn out to be a fantastic signing for Manchester United. A ball playing defender is exactly what the team needs given van Gaal’s preference for a system that dominates possession in every possible scenario. Rojo’s flexibility gives the manager different options, both in terms of personnel and his choice of formation, something that can only help the squad over the course of a long season. Of course Rojo will be judged on his defensive contributions above all else, but what is exciting about our new Argentine is the potential attacking threat he will bring to Old Trafford as well. I will leave you with words from the man himself after making the move official; “I always give everything I have in a game and I leave everything out there on the pitch. I play each game as if it could be my last.” Bienvenido a Manchester United, Marcos Rojo.