Injury Curse: Maguire and Varane both likely out but United have enough depth to cope

Manchester United look set to be without both captain Harry Maguire and first choice centre-back partner Raphael Varane for the first game post international break, as United travel to take on Leicester City. Maguire has been battling with a calf issue, and although still has an outside chance of playing, he’s unlikely to start. 

Varane on the other hand picked up a groin injury while on International duty for France, the world cup winner was substituted during the Nations League final against Spain. Despite this undoubtedly being a blow for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the manager still has several defenders to choose from in their absence. 

Earlier this year we wrote about the increased squad depth United now possess in defence, and it looks like that depth will be called into action with both Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelöf available.

This game will be a significant test for Bailly and Lindelöf if they are recalled into the starting line-up, Bailly’s only start this season has come in United’s disappointing Carabao Cup defeat to West Ham United, while Lindelöf lost his position as a starting centre-back once Raphael Varane arrived. 

The lack of minutes for the pair means they may feel a sense of rust, however, this will need to be shaken off quickly if they are to deal with a strong and fast Leicester side. In some senses it feels like Lindelöf has progressed in the last year, being promoted to Sweden captaincy is a major step up in responsibilities at the national level, and Solskjaer will hope this can have a positive effect on his club football as well. 

Meanwhile, Bailly looks like he’s stagnating at United, despite signing a new deal in April of this year. The Ivorian has represented his country at the Olympic Games this year, even scoring in the quarter final defeat against Spain, but aside from this there has been no real progression for the defender. 

Bailly may feel the most aggrieved out of all United’s defenders in the sense that he is almost certainly fourth choice at centre-back despite signing that new deal this year. Any assurances over game time may have disappeared once the highly rated Varane was available on the market, Solskjaer has seemingly been guilty with not keeping promises over game time, something Donny Van de Beek will attest to

In spite of this, the pair should be ready and raring to go, as is expected of every single United player.

Although the prospect of going into a game against Leicester without two first choice defenders is a scary prospect on paper, there may be a few factors in United’s favour. Firstly the fact that Leicester have been in poor form by their high standards this season is a plus, Brendan Rodgers hasn’t been able to make the Foxes click quite yet, Leicester sit all the way down in 13th going into the game. 

Additionally, both teams go into this game after an international break, meaning most players have had a considerable time away from playing, which may benefit Lindelof and Bailly as they attempt to find match rhythm once more. 

In some regards it may be forgotten that the pair are in fact both good players on their day, but United’s level of depth in defence and lack of opportunities have almost afforded both Lindelof and Bailly a status of substandard. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Lindelof and Bailly have both won trophies for United where Maguire hasn’t, so there should be no real questioning of their experience when they do need to fill in.

For Lindelof and Bailly, a good performance may lead to a run of games, with Varane set to be out for at least two weeks. Maguire is likely to return very soon, so the opportunity to impress may be limited to just this one game for one of the incoming pair, and Solskjaer will know he needs every player at their best to contend with the difficult upcoming run of fixtures. 

Overall United will face a stern test against Leicester, but the game shouldn’t be lost on defensive changes for United, rather the result will be symptomatic of how Solskjaer deploys his team on the day and whether the players as a whole turn up with intensity after the break- something that should be expected at the very least.

Written by Sam Wilson

Paul Pogba’s future at Manchester United likely to continue after summer transfers – reports

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba was expected to run down his contract at the Old Trafford club this season, leaving as a free agent next summer for the second time in his career. However, the transfer business conducted by the club this summer, in which Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo all signed for the club could see the player make a U-turn on his future, as reported by The Mirror.

If these rumours of the player changing his min are true, United could be set for success in the not too distant future.

Pogba first left United in the summer of 2012, rejecting a new contract to remain at the club, which was then managed by Sir Alex Ferguson. Pogba signed as a free agent for Juventus, in which compensation was paid as the player had come through United’s academy. Four years later, United signed Pogba for £89 million with the player looking to finish what was started at the club.

In his first season back at United, then managed by Jose Mourinho, Pogba helped the Old Trafford club lift the EFL Cup, now the Carabao Cup and the UEFA Europa League, which meant that United had now won every trophy they had ever played for in the history of the club.

Since winning their last trophy, United have faltered in rediscovering that trophy-winning form, overcoming their semi-final hoodoo last season by earning a UEFA Europa League final against Villarreal, which was lost on 11-10 on penalties. It was a shame that United could not win the Europa League last season but the trials and tribulations of the coronavirus pandemic were just one of the reasons the club failed.

Many may see that blaming the inability to win on the pandemic might be childish, but you have to look at the three months delay to the 2019/20 season, which saw the season finish during June and July 2020 with the UEFA competitions being played out through August 2020. That with the 2020/21 season starting in September, it saw United with around three weeks break with no pre-season and effectively continuing one season straight after the other which resulted in continued fatigue.

It is being suggested that the 28-year-old French midfielder has had a change of heart over his future at United, which if true is a good thing as United could achieve so much more with the player in the squad this season.

Pogba has started the season in fine form with United’s start to the season, getting four assists in the 5-1 demolition of Leeds United in the clubs opening match of the season, getting another assist in the 1-1 draw with Southampton, then getting two more in the 4-1 victory over Newcastle United at the weekend.

United have scored 11 goals in their opening four Premier League matches this season, conceding just three, which is a much better start to the season compared to last season, where they fell to a home defeat on the opening day of the season to Crystal Palace, losing five more matches, all at Old Trafford during the course of the season in the league.

Pogba did not have the greatest 2020/21 season but his start to the current season shows that he wants to make amends for that.

The reports in The Mirror on Monday seem to come from a report by The Athletic, which seems to suggest the return to Old Trafford of a certain Ronaldo is the major boost in Pogba’s mind seemingly changing, which shows that United are seeking to create something for the future and the now in their bid to challenge for silverware both this season and in the future.

Ronaldo’s second debut at the club saw him score a brace against Newcastle, which turned back the years at the Theatre of Dreams.

Over the years, Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola has been vocal about United’s demise, which you can see from the point of view of the player, in that he wants to achieve success with the club, especially during the peak of his career.

But the words from Raiola were agitating and seemed to suggest that he wanted to move his client on to pastures new once again, if only to earn some money for himself, which he seems to be obsessed by as an agent. Another client of his, Erling Haaland seems to be wanted by many clubs, which will earn Raiola a tidy sum, which is something he seems to care about more than anything else.

If Pogba ends up committing his foreseeable future to United, and it is a good deal for the club – not something that will see the player earn £400,000 per week, as has been talked about in the media recently, it could be a good deal, especially if the French FIFA World Cup winner wants to achieve things for this club once again.

United winning the Premier League title for the first time since the 2012/13 season would be considered a great success for the club, based on the fact Manchester City seem to have dominated – winning the title four times, with Chelsea winning twice and both Leicester City and Liverpool winning one each.

United will obviously be seeking to signing more players next summer with the likes of Edinson Cavani, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata all entering their last year of their contracts, plus Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will need to finally sort out the midfield, with Nemanja Matic the only experienced defensive midfielder at the club.

Whatever United manage to achieve this season will only be the beginning as the club looks like they mean business in getting back to winning ways and challenging for silverware for the foreseeable future.

Written by John Walker

Squad Depth: The Future of Manchester United’s Centre-Back Options

Manchester United have always relied on having strong squad depth to compete at the highest level in all competitions, whether that be the famous 2008/09 squad that featured the likes of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov, Carlos Tevez and Luis Nani, or squads from the past that featured legends such as Jaap Stam, Denis Irwin, Gary Pallister and Phil and Gary Neville. However, in the past seven years or so United have arguably had little quality squad depth, and this is something that is important in every position on the field if trophies are the target.

Defensively, United have lacked two top class centre-backs since the days of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic’s formidable partnership, but the signing of Raphael Varane alongside existing club captain Harry Maguire looks to have changed this.

Varane arrives at United boasting an impressive trophy haul from his time with Real Madrid, which includesfour Champions League trophies and three La Liga titles. Add this to his impressive international career, which includes a World Cup and being the youngest ever French captain, it’s clear Varane brings a winning mentality to United that is so desperately needed. United are without a league title since 2013 and haven’t lifted the coveted Champions League trophy since that fantastic night in Moscow in 2008, Varane could be the addition that finally ends the eight-year league drought.

Highly respected and revered at Los Blancos, Varane boasts an impressive defensive and disciplinary record. In his time with Real Madrid, the defender has only picked up 25 yellow cards, and impressively, two red cards. Bearing in mind that’s across 360 matches played for Madrid, his overall record is exemplary. This in itself is testament to the Frenchman’s maturity and level-headed approach to the game, something that is very evident from the interviews he’s given throughout his career, once stating to Real Madrid TV “I always want to play clean”. All of these factors combined paints a picture of a mature top-class player, a quiet leader, and more importantly- a winner.

It’s clear that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will look to quickly integrate a player of Varane’s quality into the starting XI, and naturally he will be paired with club captain Harry Maguire. The captain status and Maguire’s impressive run of form throughout last season practically makes him untouchable within the line-up. This new pairing of Maguire and Varane subsequently means that trusted starter Victor Lindelof will lose his place, and he may have a case for being frustrated.

Throughout his four-year tenure at United, Lindelof has never fully convinced the Old Trafford faithful of his ability to be a first-choice centre-back option. However, as of late Lindelöf looks to have had an upturn in form, perhaps personified by his excellent pin point ball to Bruno Fernandes in the opening game against Leeds, which led to Fernandes’s hat-trick.

Nicknamed the ‘The Iceman’, Lindelof has been mostly reliable amongst United’s back four, which is in dire contrast to fellow defender Eric Bailly. If Lindelöf is ‘the iceman’, Bailly is a firecracker- erratic, rash but possessing an undeniable level of quality. Bailly is a tenacious defender, stronger and much quicker than Lindelöf, at the surface level he seems to be the perfect partner for Maguire.

However, dig a little deeper and you see the awful injury record that Bailly has, missing several stretches of games at a time. A lack of consistency means Bailly cannot be considered as a starter, albeit seemingly possessing a high level of talent. A mix of Lindelöf’s reliability and coolness with Bailly’s speed and strength is what United need, and it seems Varane may be just that.

While Varane is nailed on to be a starter, improving United’s starting back four, his potential impact on Lindelof and Bailly could be one of the greatest effects. Solskjaer will hope the arrival of Varane may spur on the other defenders within the United contingent to up their game, which would benefit the quality in squad depth that the team possesses. United will be hoping that they may be able to replicate ‘the Alex Telles’ effect, a signing which almost certainly contributed to Luke Shaw’s incredible campaign last season. Genuine quality breeds even more quality, as the bar is raised so is the level required to stay in contention, and the presence of having a World Cup winner will hopefully bolster the performances of Lindelof and Bailly when selected.

This is vital if United are looking to win on all fronts, squad rotation will be key to avoiding injuries and keeping players fresh. In the past when United have shuffled around defensively, whether that be in cup games or as a matter of necessity, the backline has always seemed somewhat frail or unsure of itself. Solskjaer will hope that this will no longer be the case, with both Lindelof and Bailly having the extra motivation of needing to prove their quality if they want to have a chance of getting back into the starting line-up. 

Conversely, one potential issue that could arise is if either Lindelof or Bailly become disgruntled with being delegated to the bench. While it’s unlikely Lindelöf will grow frustrated, given all indications seem to point to a happy player, Bailly may look to leave the club if he is unable to get many opportunities this season. Bailly penned a new deal back in April this year, keeping him at the club until June 2024, however the international may not be all that happy if he’s denied game time. Signing the contract Bailly made it clear he had intentions of an injury free stint, claiming that he “loved the club”.

The 27-year-old also said he viewed the new contract as “a fresh challenge”, perhaps alluding to his troublesome injury history and how he is trying to move on from that. While Bailly has clear affections for the club, he may just find the signing of Varane less than four months after his contract renewal as a bit of a kick in the teeth. At 27, Bailly needs to be playing regular football if he is to stay at the top of his game, unfortunately United may not be the best place for that.

Away from more experienced players, United still have both Axel Tuanzebe and Teden Mengi within their ranks to consider. Both English centre-backs are still relatively young, Tuanzebe being 23 and Mengi 19, and the pair are touted as having a very high ceiling of talent. While Tuanzebe will be unavailable for selection this year, having just secured a third loan move to Aston Villa, it’s clear that United see a future at the club for Tuanzebe having also just signed a contract extension. While not starting in many games last season, Tuanzebe really impressed in the away win against Paris Saint-Germain, managing to deal with Kylian Mbappe’s blistering pace effectively.

In contrast, Mengi has spent most of his career so far impressing for the under 23’s, although did move to Derby County on loan in the second half of last season. The Manchester born academy graduate had put in a string of good performances before unfortunately having his loan move cut short due to a hamstring injury. Mengi’s future for this season is still undecided as of the time of writing this article, however it’s highly likely that the impressive youngster will go back out on loan to the Championship for this season.

A loan move playing regular Championship football will surely prove more beneficial than simply playing in the under 23’s for Mengi, likely exposing him to adversity and the realities of playing week in week out in front of a large crowd. United will hope both players will gain more valuable experience and playing time this season, so when the pair do return to United, they will provide fresh competition.Overall, the future looks bright for United defensively, and for the centre-back position, in particular.

The squad has gained a born winner with valuable experience in this window, and the hope is this will ignite a competitive spirit amongst the defensive ranks. The addition of more valuable loan experience for the likes of Tuanzebe also bodes well for the future, and with the quality of the current overall United team, United could finally be setup with a high quality, experienced backline for years to come.

Written by Sam Wilson

Manchester United announce the signing of Raphael Varane – a determined and talented winner

Manchester United have confirmed the signing of Raphael Varane, who has arrived from Real Madrid for a reported fee of £42 million, signing a four-year contract with the option of a fifth. The Frenchman arrived at United’s training ground in Carrington on Tuesday to start his medical ahead of the move being completed and it has been suggested that he could feature in the squad to face Leeds United in the opening Premier League match of the season at Old Trafford on Saturday. It is an exciting time for United, who have already signed goalkeeper Tom Heaton and winger Jadon Sancho this summer in a bid to strengthen the squad ahead of a possible title charge during the 2021/22 season which will need to end positively for United and Solskjaer.

Varane, 28, started his football career as a youth in 2000 with Hellemmes, leaving the club in 2002 for Lens, making his first team debut in the 2010/11 season, playing a total of 24 times for the French club, scoring two goals. In the summer of 2011, Sir Alex Ferguson, the then United manager, was interested in signing Varane and ended up signing Phil Jones for £16.5 million from Blackburn Rovers instead and less than ten days later, Varane signed a six-year deal with Real Madrid, which on hindsight, was a better move for him considering Ferguson retired two-years later and United suffered massively under the management of David Moyes, then Louis van Gaal, then Jose Mourinho before Solskjaer arrived at the club.

Varane made 360 appearances for Real Madrid in his ten seasons at the club, scoring 17 goals and seven assists and during his period at the club he won all the major honours he could at the club, winning three La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey trophy, three Supercopa de España trophies, four UEFA Champions League trophies, three UEFA Super Cups and four FIFA Club World Cups – an 18-trophy haul at the Spanish club. Varane is also a regular in the France national team having been capped 79 times for his country, scoring a total of five goals. He also helped his country win the FIFA World Cup in Russia in 2018, which was a big feat for the country twenty years after winning the tournament for the first time – on home turf in 1998.

Varane is a winner and will want to continue to achieve such things in the challenge that he has accepted. Ten years ago, he would have been a good signing for United but in the same period of time, United have won one Premier League title, one Emirates FA Cup, one Football League Cup, one UEFA Europa League and three FA Community Shields – which is not comparable to what he achieved in Spain. It might have been different is Ferguson had not retired at the end of the 2012/13 season, but I doubt it would have been the same. The right decision was made by the player and he achieved everything he could with his teammates at Real Madrid and now the challenge will be to help get United back to the top, which is the major challenge.

Real Madrid would have preferred to re-sign Varane on a long-term contract but it was a new challenge that he craved. Along with United, there was interest from Premier League rivals Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain, who had already signed former Real Madrid teammate Sergio Ramos, who was a free agent this summer. It did not look feasible for the French club to sign Varane based on the players that they had signed this summer, which seems to have ended with a big signing, getting Lionel Messi as a free agent, who left Barcelona at the weekend. But it was suggested that Varane only wanted to sign for United, which makes the so-called fans who continue to moan about the manager look silly as they reckon top players do not want to play for Solskjaer.

That is clearly not the case as both Jadon Sancho and Varane will have signed for the club this summer, both of them exciting talents who will help to improve United going forward. The defence will be much stronger with both Varane and Harry Maguire in the centre of defence and the strength in depth will continue with Victor Lindelof, Phil Jones and Eric Bailly – providing they all remain fit – giving some quality on the bench as well as on the pitch. With Sancho’s signing, United brought in an experienced winger to play on the right, which has been a problem position for many years at the club, despite the arrivals of both Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo, who arrived last summer and in January, respectively.

Varane will be looking ahead to the new challenge that lies in wait at United, playing in the Premier League, UEFA Champions League, Carabao Cup and the Emirates FA Cup. It may take in a while to settle into the team and he may not start immediately, which will depend on his fitness levels. He did upload content onto social media this weekend, an image of him watching the pre-season match against Everton, with United winning 4-0 and a video of his training in the garden in Manchester, after he arrived earlier in the week. There is a chance that his fitness level will be quite high and that he can get started as soon as possible. Speaking to the official Manchester United website about signing for the club, Varane said:

“Manchester United is one of the most iconic clubs in world football and the chance to come here and play in the Premier League is something I couldn’t turn down.

“There is a lot more that I want to achieve in my career and I know I’m joining a squad full of great players who will all have the same determination to win matches and trophies.

Having spoken to the manager I can see how much progress has been made over the last few seasons and I now join a group ready to play at the highest level.

“I want to make an impact here and I will give everything to become part of this club’s illustrious history.”

Solskjaer will be please with his business so far this summer; signing Heaton, Sancho and Varane so far, which could be better with a defensive minded midfielder arriving too, but that will result on getting fringe players out of the door too, whether on loan or on permanent deals. The challenge of the 2021/22 season will be tough for Solskjaer as he will be expected to win a trophy or the so-called fans who think he should be sacked will become prevalent in their own circles once again – thinking that can control what happens at the club. The squad has been turned around since Mourinho was sacked – perhaps these people cannot see this? Solskjaer, speaking to the official Manchester United website about his new signing, said:

“I’m absolutely delighted that we have managed to secure one of the best defenders in the world over the last 10 years.

“Raphaël [Varane] is a proven winner who we have tracked over a long period of time and we know just how much of a dedicated professional he is.

“We have great depth of international defenders and he will add his immense skill set and leadership to that group.

“He is a unique defender with a rare combination of top-level attributes that I know will rub off on our younger players.

“He has won everything there is to win but I know that he is still determined to succeed, I can’t wait to welcome him into the squad.”

Written by John Walker

The Evolution of the Manchester United defence under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Sir Alex Ferguson once said; “attack wins you games, defence wins you titles.” Especially under Ferguson, United were always defined by a solid centre half partnership that became United’s rock for years. Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has come in, he’s struggled to find the perfect partnership at the back, but with the improvement of Harry Maguire and the signing of Raphael Varane, can this be the pairing to restore this rock and potentially bring the titles back to Old Trafford?

In Solskjaer’s first season at the club he mainly used Phil Jones, Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling and occasionally Eric Bailly. He started off using Jones and Lindelof but switched to Smalling at times. He clearly didn’t have a preferred pairing but he was consistent in his use of Lindelof; Lindelof became a key member of Solskjaer’s team as until the signing of Raphael Varane, Lindelof was always first choice in the defence.

To resolve this issue, Solskjaer looked to bring in a dominant and controlling centre half in the summer. This was secured through the world record fee for a defender of £80 million for Harry Maguire. To this day, Maguire is overlooked due to his price tag, but recent performances have boosted his reputation. Maguire and Lindelof became Solskjaer’s trusted pairing and played together for around two years. In these two years, United have become far better defensively.

As of the 7 March, Maguire had kept 24 clean sheets since the start of the previous season which was the highest out of any outfield player. Therefore, this shows with Maguire in the team United are greatly improved as his key characteristics like heading, positioning and leadership assure the players around him and keep the defence stable. However, despite these clean sheets, issues remained and United were making mistakes defensively.

To combat this, Solskjaer has seen Lindelof as the weak link and in recent days pushed for the purchase of Raphael Varane, four-time Champions League winner and one time World Cup winner with France. Solskjaer will hope this is the final player needed in a heavily invested defence and will look to create a partnership for years to come with Maguire and Varane as the duo.

The Partnerships:

Victor Lindelof and Phil Jones

Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire

Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane

Firstly, the partnership of Lindelof and Jones. Lindelof and Jones was a pairing that both understood the game well and could hold their own but under consistent pressure would fold. The major issue was height, it lacked ariel dominance especially in such a physical league as the Premier League.

Therefore, rough teams like Burnley might look to take advantage of their weak ariel ability, which has continued through to the Maguire and Lindelof partnership as Lindelof still gets bullied in the air seen, in particular, against West Bromwich Albion when Mbaye Diagne manhandled Lindelöf to score in the second minute of the game.

As a pairing it wasn’t of the United level especially with the duo’s that had come by in the past like Steve Bruce x Gary Pallister, Jaap Stam x Ronny Johnsen and Rio Ferdinand x Nemanja Vidic. Maguire’s signing the summer after illustrates the issues with the Jones and Lindelöf partnership as he is a known tall, strong, and aerially brilliant defender purchased to give United more height.

Lindelof and Maguire as a partnership were more successful. They created a solid connection, enabling them to be Solskjaer’s trusted pairing for just under two years and win many big games together. The lack of height in the previous duo was mostly rectified, as Maguire brought this, but Lindelof was still a liability in this air, but it wasn’t as obvious as Maguire could cover for him.

However, the main weakness with this duo was pace. Both Lindelof and Maguire lacked pace and thus were susceptible to being done by quick agile players or balls in behind. This lack of pace also prohibited the United backline from pushing higher up the pitch in fear of faster forwards exploiting the slower defenders and running the channels.

This ultimately has had a detrimental effect on United’s style of play as due to the weakness of this partnership, Solskjaer has looked to use Scott McTominay and Fred to cover them which slows down United’s ball progression and transition and limits their attacking force. Overall, it’s been a decent partnership but one that always had blatant issues and subsequently Solskjaer looked to sign Varane to solve this.

In recent days, United have managed to agree a deal with Real Madrid for Raphael Varane subject to a medical. Solskjaer will be hoping his signing solves the issues of previous seasons like pace and height. Varane is a quick centre half who is 6 foot 3 inches tall and quite good in the air. Therefore, next to Maguire he should provide that necessary recovery pace needed to play next to him.

Furthermore, unlike Lindelof, Varane is good in the air which means that he should adapt to the physicality and demand of the Premier League and may be able to deal with the tricky strikers like Chris Wood, Michail Antonio and Ashley Barnes better than Lindelof. In addition, due to Varane’s pace it will enable United to play a higher line as he has the recovery speed if a ball is played in behind. Therefore, this means United can push higher up the pitch, pressing more and also being less likely to be forced back into their own half.

Then finally, with Varane’s qualities, he will reassure Solskjaer which will enable him to play with a lone defensive midfielder rather than two defensive midfielders in a pivot as seen with McTominay and Fred. Thus helping United play, a more attacking style of football which will please the players and most importantly the fans as it fulfils the DNA of Manchester United football club.

Overall, I feel Solskjaer has gradually done well adapting and changing his defence in his United tenure, and with a back four of Luke Shaw, Maguire, Varane and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, I feel United could be far more secure and balanced defensively which will strengthen the team as a whole and may lead them on to have a successful season and potentially win silverware.

Written by Ethan Bents

Central Defender options that Manchester United could sign this summer

Manchester United will be seeking to sign a new central defender this summer with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looking for a commanding partner for Harry Maguire. The England defender who netted the winner against Poland at Wembley on Wednesday evening was signed for £80 million from Leicester City in the summer of 2019 and is seeking to finish his second season with the club on a high. United are short on defenders at this time with Phil Jones on the sidelines through injury and Eric Bailly unable to be relied upon with his own poor injury record what has seen him on the sidelines through injury for around 33.3% of his time at the club.

Victor Lindelof is the best partner for Maguire at this time based on his availability, which stands at 82% if the matches played since he signed for the club in the summer of 2017. Axel Tuanzebe will get his chance but he’s a rookie and United need proven quality to partner Maguire, which will help the likes of Tuanzebe and even Teden Mengi make the grade at United. The club should have four experienced central defenders that they could rotate throughout the season, keeping everyone fresh. United have been linked to many defenders already despite the season not yet coming to a close. In this article I will talk about options United could take.

Jules Kounde, 22 – Sevilla FC

Jules Kounde is perhaps the target that many supporters of United want to see wearing the famous red shirt of the club. However, there seems to be a few problems that could stop that from happening. There seems to be many clubs with an interest in the Frenchman and his £68 million release clause is a fee that United would be reluctant to pay, according to FourFourTwo – which seems rather strange. If he’s an upgrade on the likes of Phil Jones and Eric Bailly, what could be the problem? Kounde is right footed with Solskjaer seeking a left footed defender last summer. It might not be the main factor that needs to be met in a possible transfer though.

Kounde is at a relatively early stage of his career and has played 79 times for Sevilla, scoring five goals and two assists. He came through the academy at Girondins Bordeaux, making 70 first team appearances for the club, scoring four goals and one assist before his transfer. Kounde can play in either of the central defensive positions in a four-man defence and he would no doubt be an upgrade but if United are seeking a cheaper deal, they will go with other options. I like Kounde’s style of play – a more conservative approach, delaying actions to force his opponents to make mistakes. He’s contracted at Sevilla until the summer of 2024.

Pau Torres, 24 – Villarreal CF

Pau Torres has been linked with United for the past year and it was expected that a deal could have been completed last summer, but nothing happened. The player is left footed and fit the speculation that Solskjaer wanted a left footed central defender last summer, which would add balance to the defence. It has been reported that Torres has a €60 million (£51 million) release clause, according to the Manchester Evening News. United have been scouting the player, according to the reports and would spend a significant amount of their transfer budget on the player. Perhaps in the coming months we will see if the interest is concrete.

Torres is a bit more experienced than Kounde and has been learning English, at least that is what reports have stated. His current contract runs until the summer of 2024, so it seems unlikely that United would be able to do a deal, unless they have a player that Villarreal could be interested in as part of a potential deal. Torres has played 75 matches for Villarreal, scoring five goals and two assists. Torres has speed and precise passing ability inn his locker and he has established many defensive concepts. He could well be the player United opt for this summer but there are many other options.

Ben White, 23 – Brighton and Hove Albion

Ben White is a player that has been linked to United, amongst other clubs this season. He does not seem to be one of the exciting options that the club could go for this summer. He is a right footed player, like Kounde and will be a more frugal option to reinforce the defence this summer. White started out at Southampton and was sold to Brighton as an academy player. He was loaned to Newport County, playing 51 times, scoring one goal and five assists, Peterborough United, where be played 16 times, scoring one goal, and Leeds United, where he played 49 times, scoring one goal and two assists.

His current contract, which was renewed in September 2020, expires in the summer of 2024 and he has a £50 million price tag with Chelsea also interested in the player, according to Football.London but £35 million could be a starting point. There are far better options for United this summer, inn my opinion. Torres would be a similar amount and Kounde would inanely be £18 million more, so this would not be a good deal, at that figure. White is a ball-playing defender, has versatility and good technical ability. Each target will bring something different to the table and United will have to find the player who fits what they need this summer and beyond.

Nikola Milenkovic, 23 – ACF Fiorentina

Nikola Milenkovic has been linked to United more in the past few weeks but he has been a player linked to United in the past too. A few weeks ago the speculation suggested that he was the player that United were going to complete a deal for, but slow news days tend to bring these reports, then the same journalists pick another name and do the same. Milenkovic is a right footed player, so fits the bill with Kounde and White. He started out at FK Partizan Belgrade and played 44 times, scoring four goals and one assist for the club. He was sold to Fiorentina where he has so far played 125 times, scoring 11 goals and one assist.

His current contract expires in the summer of 2022, so in terms of getting a good deal, the 23-year-old could be an option as in a year’s time, he could be a free agent which gives United an opportunity to get a defender on the cheap. compared to the other players already mentioned here. United are said to have opened talks with Fiorentina, according to Constantin Eckner and a fee of £30 million could be paid for him. He has intelligent reading of the game, has an innate sense of positioning and is fearless and strong. Perhaps he could be the one for Solskjaer this summer?

Anel Ahmedhodzic, 22 – Malmo FF

Anel Ahmedhodzic is perhaps the lesser known of all the players linked to United at this present time but United have, in the past, gone under the radar to get deals done. He is another right footed player so it perhaps suggests that being left footed is not an attribute that is ultra important. Ahmedhodzic started out at Malmo before leaving for Nottingham Forest, where he made his professional debut at the age of 17, his only appearance for the club. He returned back to Malmo in 2019 and was loaned to Hobro IK where he made 19 appearances, scoring one goal and one assist.

To date, the 22-year-old has made 45 appearances for Malmo, scoring two goals and one assist. Ahmedhodzic’s contract runs until the 31 December 2023 meaning Malmo are inn a strong position to ask for a big fee for the player. It is suggested that Malmo would want a club record fee to let the player leave and that is suggested to be around €8.11 million, according to Swedish outlet Expressen. This would be a frugal option for United. Ahmedhodzic is a physical player, using his body well in duels and to block shots. His passing is rather good and he can keep possession well. There could be something positive in this rumour.

Sven Botman, 21 – LOSC Lille

Sven Botman is a recent addition to United’s list of potential central defenders and would seem to be a good fit at United, should he ben the one that Solskjaer opts for. He is a left footed player, like Torres and is contracted to his club until the summer of 2025. Botman came though the academy at Ajax and was loaned to Heerenveen before being sold to Lille. In 30 appearances for Heerenveen, he scored two goals and four assists. Whilst he never made a senior appearance for Ajax, me played 83 times at youth level, scoring 15 goals and two assists. At Lille, he has played 39 times, not scoring a goal but he has one assist.

Botman is comfortable on the ball both with his left and right foot, which shows some ability. His passing is good and he is a progressive dribbler of the ball. He is a stocky player, which comes in handy for duels and his positioning tends to be good. At 21, he has come a long way but has a lot of development to come, which might be too much for the Premier League and the demands that United will have. He could be a player for the future though. Also linked to Liverpool, it is suggested that a £39 million would be payable, according to Calcio Mercato. Coming through the Ajax academy will have given him a good footballing education.

Raphaël Varane, 27 – Real Madrid CF

Raphaël Varane is a player that Sir Alex Ferguson wanted to sign for United back in 2011, opting to sign Phil Jones from Blackburn Rovers when the Frenchman signed for Real Madrid. His current contract expires in the summer of 2022, so there could be some options for him, especially at a much reduced fee, if he was available this summer. But like ofter Madrid players, speculation seems to get them a new contract. He started at Lens, playing 24 times and scoring two goals before moving to Madrid. Since then, he has played 355 times, scoring 17 goals and seven assists, winning 18 trophies in his career at the Spanish club.

Varane plays better alongside Sergio Ramos, who is the pressure player in Madrid’s back four and Varane is a good defensive partner for him. At United, could it work alongside Maguire? Who knows. Maguire is not the same defender as Ramos so the jury will be out there. Some say Varane needs Ramos and that could be right. However, he has his uses. He will be the expensive player here with Madrid demanding €70 million (£59.6 million) for the player, according to AS. This could rule out United from making an offer, should there be solid availability, especially if they will not attempt to sign Kounde, who is a decent defender too.

Nathan Collins, 19 – Stoke City

Nathan Collins is a younger option and there is no reason why the club could not bring him from Stoke City and sign a first team standard defender too, providing money is available for both. Collins could learn more in the United academy with some players likely to be released this summer, which could leave positions available in the U23’s – that said, he may want senior football but United could be a good move. Darren Fletcher, United’s technical director could hold the key in Collins leaving Stoke. His contract ends in the summer of 2024. He has 47 senior appearances for Stoke, scoring three goals and one assist.

Collins is a right footed player, so like many others here on this list, he fits the bills. It may seem that Solskjaer looking for a left footed player is not a definite but gives options, should the need arise. Collins has a good physical aspect to his game, which suits English football, specifically he Championship. Could that help him in the Premier League? Of course. It is suggested that the player could be available for £15 million or more this summer, which could be a good deal should he fit into United’s plans, according to TeamTalk. Solskjaer clearly has many options, many better than Collins but money might be spread thin this summer.

David Carmo, 21 – SC Braga

David Carmo is another recent addition to the apparent list that United have to solve their defensive problems this summer. Whether he is the player that Solskjaer chooses to sign is something that we shall have to wait and see. He signed a new contract back in November 2020, meaning his current contract will end in the summer of 2025. He is a left footed player and can also play in as a defensive midfielder, which would be a good option, should the need arise. He came through Braga as a youth player, making 40 appearance for the club to date and has yet to score or assist a goal.

AS Roma had interest in Carmo whilst struggling to sign Chris Smalling from United last summer, so it shows that he has made waves in Portugal. He has good vision, can dribble and has good progression with the ball and can pass well, which is a good aspect to have and something that Solskjaer needs at the back with United seeking to play a more attacking style of play that does not leave the defence wide open. It is suggested that his release clause has been doubled to €40 million (£34 million), according to The Mirror, which is a big fee and will be something that United sees much of this summer.

Written by Dave Preston

copyright: JW