Manchester United’s defence is ready for the new season, says Gary Pallister


Former Manchester United defender Gary Pallister has spoken about the club’s defence ahead of the new Premier League season. United strengthened in that department last summer with the arrival of Eric Bailly from Villarreal. This summer Jose Mourinho has added Victor Lindelof from Benfica, seemingly a player who could form a partnership with Bailly and a pretty good one at that. There is strength in the defence at this present time with Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling (should he not leave the club this summer), Phil Jones, Daley Blind and Axel Tuanzebe, who can all play central roles in defence. Mourinho also has Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian and Luke Shaw as the fullbacks – Valencia on the right, Shaw on the left and Darmian who can play either role. There is depth in these roles also with Blind and Rojo (when fit) who have played left-back before and youth player Demetri Mitchell, who could be the next rising star. Pallister, speaking exclusively to 888sport, talking about how United do not need to strengthen at the back further this summer, said:

“They’ve brought in a new defender in Victor Lindelof and when you add him to Eric Bailly it looks very good. They’ve also got Marcos Rojo in there who came to the fore last year and was terrific until he suffered a serious knee injury.

“Then you also have Chris Smalling and Phil Jones who have a lot to prove. It looks like we’re keeping David De Gea which is great because we’ve seen in the past how difficult it is to replace top quality goalkeepers – it took us a long time to replace Peter Schmeichel when he left the club. Antonio Valencia has come on leaps and bounds and his outstanding performances led to Jose Mourinho calling him one of the best right-backs in the world.

“The only question mark is at left-back. Luke Shaw has had injury problems and he’s found it hard to catch the manger’s eye. Mourinho was quite tough on him last season. Then there’s Matteo Darmian who is a right-back playing at left-back. Overall though we have a lot of the bases covered and there’s a lot of quality in there.”

Pallister also spoke about how Luke Shaw could prove him wrong this season. The last campaign saw the England left-back struggling through both form and injury, being criticised by the manager and then given the chance to earn his place on the team, looking good at times. Shaw was then injured before the end of the season, needing surgery on his ankle which will see him on the sidelines until September when he should be available again for the first team. There will be some competition for Shaw though in the form of Daley Blind, Matteo Darmian and possibly even Demetri Mitchell, who will be looking to rise through the ranks and challenge for a starting position this coming season. Pallister, suggesting Shaw be patient, said:

“I think Luke Shaw can nail down that spot for himself. I know there were tough times last year and it was a difficult season for him but just before that terrible injury to his ankle his form for Manchester United was fantastic. You just think that with a bit of patience he can get back to that form again.”

Part of the strengthening in the defensive department saw both Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof sign for the Old Trafford club a year apart. The fact that Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have questionable injury records suggests Jose Mourinho was right to bring in Bailly and this summer, Lindelof. United cannot be reliant on a pair of central defenders throughout the season. We have seen this before, a few times and it does not seem to work out. United, once injuries are out of the way, should have six experienced central defenders with Axel Tuanzebe also waiting for his chance to prove himself to the manager. Bailly and Lindelof may for a great partnership ahead of the new season with Jones and Smalling able to play together and with Blind and Rojo also able to form a partnership. It will give United and Mourinho many options in defence to rotate and keep his squad fresh. On needing extra cover for injury prove Jones and Smalling, Pallister said:

“I’ve not seen an awful lot of Lindelof as I haven’t been getting up at 1 am to watch the friendlies. But I’m hearing reports that he’s a top quality centre-half and you need strength and depth to any squad and there were question marks over Smalling and Jones last year and Jose felt he wanted another defender.

“It just makes the competition for places even harder for the English players in the side and the problem both Smalling and Jones have had throughout their careers is they have been blighted by injuries. That’s why Jose has gone out and bought.”

Pallister also spoke about Victor Lindelof maybe not guaranteed to start in United’s team next season. During much of the pre-season time he has had on the pitch, the Swedish defender has looked able, both on and off the ball, but against Real Madrid, he gave away a silly penalty and even missed a penalty in the shootout which could suggest he may need some time to adapt. Last summer Eric Bailly looked inexperienced in pre-season matches, especially against Wigan Athletic, but come the FA Community Shield and his first Premier League match, the Ivorian had settled and was named Man of the Match for those two matches. Lindelof may well prove all of his hater wrong, but we should not take it for granted that everything will fit into place with the Swede. Pallister said:

“Moves are never inconceivable but with the amount of games United will be facing next year everybody is going to play a certain amount. Maybe Lindelof has been brought in as first choice but that’s not always the case. Chris Smalling or Phil Jones can put in performances and that changes.

“We saw that with Henrikh Mkhitaryan where it took five months before he got into the first team and proving himself on a regular basis. Who is to say that won’t happen with Victor Lindelof?

“It’s not just about how you play but how you are in training and around the place. Smalling and Jones are both England centre-halves and when they came back towards the latter half of last season they had to prove themselves and did well. They never sulked and took the criticism on board.”

It seems that Pallister feels United’s defence is ready for the new season, as do I. Many would have liked another central defender, but at this stage of the summer it does not look like any players are leaving, despite Chris Smalling being linked to many Premier League clubs. United will need all defenders to play to the best of their abilities, which will not happen all the time, but the majority of those who are fit and ready to go have the experience playing for United knowing what is expected of them. Only Valencia, Jones and Smalling remain from the Sir Alex Ferguson era and Mourinho may well call on the trio to show their new teammates how to win matches, challenge for trophies, but I think it will be Valencia, Bailly Rojo (when fit) and possibly even Lindelof who demonstrate that this coming season.

Read the full 888sport interview with Gary Pallister, including his thoughts on which club made the best signing of the transfer window.

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