It takes no expert to realise where Manchester United’s deficiencies are. Van Gaal’s inability to source a top centre back to compliment his star studded attacking line has led to a sketchy start to the season. With the players brought in to improve on last year’s severely disappointing season, it should be a certainty that United are going to break straight back into the top four. However, instead after 7 more than winnable fixtures United have appeared impressive going forward, but, have been exposed when put on the back foot. Watching Manchester United try to defend a 2-1 home lead against Everton was; uncomfortable, worrying and at times painful. Whereas, Chelsea seeing out a 1-0 lead against Arsenal looked; assured, comfortable and never in doubt. That’s what Van Gaal’s United side need to strive for, the feeling of confidence fans use to be privy to no matter the score line in the Fergie days.
The 10 goals conceded by the Red Devils so far this season have been alarming to their fans. An approach of “we will score more than we concede” feels inherently unlike Man United. A club that’s success throughout recent times has been built on the back of a strong centre-back pairing. From the years of Bruce and Pallister, through to Staam and whoever was put next to the towering Dutchman, till the more recent days of Vidic and Ferdinand. So far this season United have used: Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, Marcos Rojo, Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair at centre-back. Each of those players arguably aren’t capable (yet or ever) of commanding a back four and would need a captain/veteran figure next to them to help bring the best out of them. In David De Gea the red half of Manchester has one of the best keepers in Europe, so there is no problem there. In both full-back positions United seem set. A young Luke Shaw should develop into a world class left-back. Rafael’s form comes and goes but on his day he could earn a spot in most teams’ right-back position. It is an experienced defensive general to partner one of the young guns in the middle of defence that is needed
In years gone by Evans, Jones and Smalling have all looked capable of developing into top level defenders. But, that has always been when they are partnered by a seasoned pro in the shape of Ferdinand or Vidic. Chelsea have John Terry for Gary Cahill, who has seriously benefited from that partnership. Man City have Vincent Kompany whose qualities would make me look a good centre-back next to him. Even Arsenal have Pers Mertesacker, who despite not being world class has the experience and old head capable of bossing a back line. So who is the missing link capable of pulling this young, naïve defence together and turning United into a solid team in all areas of the pitch?
It goes without saying that the Borussia Dortmund and Germany stopper could improve pretty much any defence. A mainstay in the recently successful Dortmund side since the age of 19 after developing in the Bayern Munich youth system, it is safe to say Hummels is of top pedigree. Admittedly, at the age of 25 he is on the young side (a year younger than Jonny Evans) for an “experienced defensive general”, but, he is a defender well beyond his years. His ability has him regarded as one of the best players in his position in Europe. With a World Cup winners medal, 2 Bundesliga titles, a Champions League runners-up medal and DFB Pokal to his name that is no surprise. When you are Germany’s main centre-back in their World Cup winning squad, there should be no doubt that you are good enough to command Manchester United’s defence.
What Hummels will definitely command is a massive transfer fee on top of the money United have already spent. Furthermore, so far it seems he has no interest in leaving Dortmund. Arguably why should he? He earns good money and plays in front of the yellow wall at the Signal Iduna Park. Would he swap it to lead a leaky back line in front of the Stretford End?
Chiellini started off his career as a left-back, where he still does play on occasion. As his career has progressed however, he has established himself as a strong, no nonsense centre-back for both club and country. What also suit’s Chiellini to Manchester United and Van Gaal is his ability to play in a back 3. Van Gaal favoured a back 3 for the Netherlands at the World Cup and tried to implement it at the beginning of the season with United but didn’t have the talent to make it work. Chiellini has frequented 3 man defences for Italy and Juventus giving an extra dimension to his game that Van Gaal would undoubtedly appreciate in his side.
At 30 years old Chiellini should be hitting his peak years as a centre-back and United would be wise to try and capture him for them. With 72 Italy caps, 3 Serie A titles and a European Championship runners-up medal to his name he is proven to be capable at the highest level. Furthermore, reportedly his contract is up in the summer so should United look to bring him to Old Trafford in January it could be at a reduced price or potentially on a free is they are willing to wait till next summer.
Some issues: like many Italian players he may be reluctant to leave his home land where he is comfortable and playing for an ever improving Juventus side. Also, having watched him over the years there can be questions over his complacency on the ball at times, but that would be a serious case of nit-picking. What is for sure is that Chiellini is made in the mould of the Italian defenders of old; confident, strong and not afraid to get involved in a tackle. He would fit the Premier League well and United would benefit greatly.
In the season just past, Diego Godin catapulted himself in the upper echelons of defensive talents in world football. The 28 year old Uruguayan has always been a solid performer for both club and country, through his Villareal days to now leading Atletico Madrid’s backline. Last season, Atletico Madrid shocked many by not only beating both Barcelona and neighbours Real Madrid to the La Liga title, but coming within minutes of also beating Real Madrid in the Champions League final. In fact, it was Godin’s goals that secured the title for Atletico on the last day of the season and that gave them the lead against Real Madrid in the Champions League final.
Godin has won 84 caps for his native Uruguay and was part of the squad that won the Copa America in 2011. This, on top of the previously mentioned La Liga title but also Copa Del Rey and Europa League winners medals, displays his ability to compete at the highest level and keep a strong enough defence to bring home trophies for his sides. His partnership with the Brazilian Miranda last year supplied the strong base for an Atletico Madrid side to shock Spain and Europe with their achievements. Is he therefore capable of creating a similar partnership in Manchester allowing Van Gaal to release his attacking weapons with little worry of consequence? Godin will feel he has proved his credentials to do so.
The one that got away, Gerard Pique. The young Spaniard who made his debut for the red half of Manchester about 9 years ago has turned into one of the leading defensive names in the game. Not much was thought of Pique returning to Barcelona after only 23 appearances for the Red Devils, at the time. With Vidic and Ferdinand being one of the most feared centre-back partnerships in the world, Pique was not required. Now he is.
Pique slotted straight into an improving Barcelona’s rearguard at the tender age of 21. He took to it like a duck to water and left United with egg on their face. At the age of 27 Pique boasts: 63 Spain caps, a World Cup winners medal, a European Championship winners medal, 4 La Liga titles, 2 Champions League winners medals, 2 Copa Del Rey winners medals and 2 FIFA Club World Cup winners medals. All this after securing a Premier League title and Champions League winners medal in his short tenure with Manchester United.
There has been question marks over Pique’s form as of late, possibly due to his lack of competition for his position in recent years. This would be a worry since he would hardly be challenged for his position at United at the moment. Also, having already been let go by United a return to Manchester may not be on his agenda. However, it’s safe to say Pique would now start for any team at centre-back and would arrive back in Manchester with the experience, confidence and ability to lead the defence at Old Trafford.
Plus, Shakira is his partner. She would definitely brighten up match days.
For most fans Ron Vlaar is probably the least inspiring name on this list, but he cannot be ignored as a genuine contender for the position. At the age of 29 Vlaar’s honours list isn’t nearly as impressive as the likes of Pique and Hummels. But, as of late he shown on the pitch why he should considered by a top side to tighten up their defence. Off the back of a World Cup where he impressed as one of the best defenders in Brazil, while playing for a defence that was questioned as suspect prior to the tournament. Against Argentina in their semi-final match with the Netherlands he near single handedly kept Argentina’s attacking front line at bay, including a certain Lionel Messi. For me, he cemented himself as a top centre-back with his World Cup performances.
More importantly a man that is definitely impressed with his defensive exploits is the man that matters, Louis Van Gaal. The Man United Gaffer trusted Vlaar to lead his Dutch defence in Brazil and the big man replied in kind, by leading them to a third place finish at the tournament. He would be familiar with the level of performance expected by Van Gaal; he is used to commanding younger players around him both for the Netherlands and in his time at Aston Villa. Also, he has already spent two seasons in the Premier League so is accustomed to the type of teams and styles he will come up against. He will undoubtedly be available for a fraction of the price of a player like Hummels and at 29 years old his best days could still be ahead of him. One potential problem is he has never played for a team the size of Manchester United and dealt with the expectation that comes with that. However, how will we ever know if he is capable of succeeding under those conditions unless he is given a chance to prove it? Vlaar more than deserves consideration for a place in Van Gaal’s new look United side and I believe Van Gaal is aware of that.
Each of these players would be capable of helping fix Manchester United’s defensive frailties, the questions that would need answered are: do they fancy the challenge? Would they be available in January? Are United going to pay big money as they have this summer on the likes of Hummels or Pique? Do they need to spend big or is their value in the market for such a position in the shape of Ron Vlaar? Van Gaal will be more than aware of the options available to him, I personally feel each of the 5 players would benefit his squad greatly and help United achieve their goal of returning to the top four at haste.