According to reports in the popular press, (does that mean the Sun and the Star?), José Mourinho has been so impressed with whoever plays in defence that he no longer feels the need to splash the cash on a new defender.
José Fonte may have asked for a transfer from Southampton in the vain hope that it would result in a move to Old Trafford but it isn’t going to happen. He may still get to play for a club with more to offer than the Saints, but it won’t be United.
Victor Lindelof will remain a Benfica player for the foreseeable future after supposedly also having his head turned by United, only to be stood up at the last minute when José decided to stick with his current partnerships.
The truth in this defensive improvement is a little more disconcerting than the United manager would have us believe. As we here at WSA are sure he knows, Manchester United have improved in the goal scoring department and in the midfield area. This has taken a heck of a lot of pressure off the defence and they are not needing to make the amount of last ditch tackles now as they were a couple of months ago.
The defending has only really improved because they are having to do a heck of a lot less of it thanks to the forward and midfield players performing at a higher level than earlier in the season!
If, however, we take a closer look at what Mourinho is prepared to stick with for the moment, our guess is that he will be looking for at least one new defensive recruit in the Summer, if not two.
First off, let us freely admit that Eric Bailly was an excellent buy and looks the most composed of all the defenders. He is a throwback to the likes of Alan Hansen at Liverpool and Bobby Noble at United. He has very quickly become Manchester United’s best defender.
Phil Jones has played well since his return from yet another injury and has been helped, no doubt, by staying injury-free for a while. He remains indecisive and reckless at times and has yet to prove he is really the quality required at a club like United, but he is doing well at present.
Chris Smalling remains an accident waiting to happen. He is also indecisive and is frequently caught out of position. His constant holding of opposition players in the penalty area should have, under the new rules, resulted in at least one penalty in every game in which he has played. His passing is usually fairly poor, a failing he shares with Phil Jones.
Marcos Rojo is a no-nonsense defender. Even when it is not necessary, he will just whack the ball upfield which inevitably results in possession being given straight to the opposition. Like Smalling he is always going to be close to a red card because of the way he tackles and, like Jones, he is always going to be close to injury, again because of the way he tackles. He is also doing quite well at present.
Daley Blind has occasionally been played at the centre of defence and has done a good job when asked to do so. He reads the game very well which makes up for his lack of height in the position. He is not, however, a long term solution for this role and is much better as a defensive midfielder. If he could improve his range of passing he would be a candidate to replace Michael Carrick when the “old man” eventually hangs his boots up or moves on.
Carrick himself has occasionally performed in a central defensive position but this has usually been on a “needs-must” basis. He would never normally be associated with the job and has looked uncomfortable with it at times in the past, particularly in a game against Fulham a few years ago, which United comprehensively lost.
So, in conclusion Mourinho, with a little luck, will get away with playing a defensive pairing made up of two out of Jones, Smalling, Bailly and Rojo. It looks like being their reward for putting in some decent performances of late. It would, however, be wrong to assume that these players are the long term solution to United’s defensive worries.
January may be a no-go but August will almost certainly see some players being brought in.