Manchester United’s centre-back dilemma

Karthik Raman / 23 February 2015

Manchester United are suffering big time for their ineffectiveness to replace the departed Rio Ferdinand and Nemnja Vidic last summer. The present crop of group are neither good nor the additions which Van Gaal made in the defensive department were up to the mark.

The Red Devils currently have six available candidates to fill the position – Marcos Rojo, Paddy Mcnair, Tyler Blackett, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans. Among these six, three have been with the club for a long time, while two were promoted from the youth squad and one was bought only last summer.

On paper seeing a team having six centre-halves in their first team and still calling it the weak link may sound funny, but in truth not many of them or infact none of them are established centre-backs. For a while now Jones, Smalling and Evans in particular has been touted to take the mantle from the pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand.

They have always been their deputy and were never the first choice, so this season was the first time ever they were given that responsibility. As far as Rojo is concerned, the Argentine has so far been a left-back for his country. However, he can play in centre-back, which is why United are using him in the middle. But even he isn’t a recognised centre-half.

Whereas the other two Mcnair and Blackett were promoted from the youth team at the start of the season to fill the holes in the back due to injuries rather than their impressive first team performances. There were periods at the start of the season when United had only one or none of the four experienced centre-halves available.

So to tackle the situation, Louis Van Gaal has promoted them to the first team and gave them more matches than they would have anticipated. At the beginning of the season, Van Gaal himself admitted that youngsters can be given the chance occasionally to fill a hole, but cannot be trusted for a longer run so soon in their career. However, due to the disastrous injury period United were facing, the two were involved in first team more often than he would have liked.

So here we are still struggling to understand why Van Gaal has not signed a proper professional in that position. To his credit Van Gaal has pursued some big targets notably Mats Hummels, so desperately last the summer, if you were to believe Ruud Gullit, a former Dutch international.

However, when he failed to pursue his lucrative targets away from their clubs, Van Gaal should have bought an alternative instead of waiting for them to arrive next summer. Dutchman previously stated that he does not intend to buy someone who he does not believe to be the club’s long term fix.

However, seeing the present crop of players United have in their possession, any potential centre-half signed by Van Gaal will instantly be better than that United have with them. The likes of Ashley Williams (Swansea) or Fonte (Southampton), may not stand at the same level of Hummels. But, they are still doing the job effectively for their team.

Their performances for team last weekend showed that names do not guarantee performance but the determination. There was hardly a ball which these two failed to head or clear away when they were put towards them. On the other hand, United defenders were struggling whenever the ball came into the box. So Van Gaal might have taken the easier option of buying one of them to fix their problems atleast for this season. Also their cost would have been very low.

However, due to the manager’s adamant nature, United did not sign any proper defenders in the January window too and are forced to settle with the group of underachievers they currently have. Among them Marcos Rojo seems to be the only decent defender the club has, but even he is susceptible to frequent errors. But, what choice Van Gaal has other than to make the best out of what they have got. If United are to finish in the top four, steading the defence is an absolute must.

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