How to solve a problem like Manchester United’s centre defence

The big ‘rebuild’ of the Manchester United squad is already well under way. Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera have signed for just under 60 million pounds, covering two of the many positions in quite evident need of strengthening this summer, with many other illustrious attacking names reported to be set to follow. But there’s still one glaringly obvious gap, it seems, right in the heart of defence.

Last season saw the end of a fair few careers at United, most noticeably David Moyes, and both Ryan Giggs the player, and Ryan Giggs the manager (at least for now). They weren’t the only ones, however, with legendary centre-back pairing Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand spending their final season Old Trafford.

First to announce his departure was skipper Vidic, who revealed in March, he would be making the move across to Serie A with Italian giants Inter Milan on a free transfer.

Nemanja has left the Theatre of Dreams after nearly seven seasons as an immovable rock at the back for United, which included the permanent appointment of the fierce, and combative Serbian as Manchester United captain in 2011.

His time in Manchester was an instant and lasting success, rapidly becoming the Premier League’s most feared and formidable defender, since signing from Spartak Moscow for around £7m. He went on to win five Premier League titles, and appeared in three Champions League finals, with one triumph in 2008.

The defence in that 2008 European winning side was arguably one of the greatest in Manchester United’s history, and the partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic was bordering on utter defensive perfection, and as of this summer, it is officially no longer, with the former expected to join newly-promoted Queens Park Rangers, after being released following a twelve year service to the club, including ten major trophies in his time whilst engraving his name in Man United greatness.

Much questioning throughout the early years of his career with the Red Devil’s over the behaviour and maturity of the defender lingered for some time, but Rio’s complete coming of age was confirmed in Moscow, as he captained the reds to Champions League victory, with a resolute and level-headed performance as a player, and as a leader.

At £30m, he was the world’s most expensive defender, and after much debate at the start, there is quite simply no doubting whether the cool, calm and composed centre-half from Peckham has been worth every penny.

Now, just Patrice Evra remains of that great back five of ‘07/’08, and with the recent signing of teenage full-back Luke Shaw, it looks that even he will be playing a more subdued role in red next term.

So, who are the men to and fill the void left behind by two Old Trafford greats? Step forward, Jonny Evans.

Already a regular outfit in the back-line, aside from Evra, Jonny now becomes United’s most experienced defender with six years of fairly regular first-team appearances now behind him. An intelligent and agile centre-half, Evans has consistently proved over the years that alongside a world-class defensive partner (Rio & Vidic), his quick turn of pace, ability to sniff out danger, and a more than capable range of passing can form a truly brick wall-like defence.

That leaves one more space, and although I still hold plenty of hope for Jones and Smalling (especially Phil Jones), you sense that Louis van Gaal is going to take to the transfer market once more.

It has been reported that the Dutchman’s big transfer target is Mats Hummels, and he would be the perfect fit. Although, at 25, he isn’t the most experienced in regards to age, he has proved to be genuine world-class, and with already two international tournaments and a Champions League final under his belt, it’s hard to argue against the Germans much talked about ability.

More probable signings (again, according to reports), have seen to be Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen and young Feyenoord and Netherlands centre-half Stefan de Vrij, with the latter already being under management by United’s new coach Van Gaal.

Vermaelen is evidently the most experienced out of the two options, but with several injury plagued seasons defensively in recent years for the Red Devils, his own unfortunate injury record doesn’t look like improving that. If stayed injury-free, however, the Belgian strikes me as being a good fit. But that’s it, good. Hummels to Vermaelen is some drop, and Manchester United could find themselves in the same position as they are now, next year – in search of a new centre-back.

Dutch defender Stephan de Vrij will be known well by manager Louis van Gaal and we have seen plenty of good from him at the World Cup this summer. If de Vrij is brought in as our only purchase in this area, I would worry about the experience we have so sorely lost, and not replaced.

Who would make your centre-back pairing next season? Comment in the section below.

6 Comments

  1. Evans is a guaranteed starter, he is our best defender and have been for the last couple seasons, a brick wall of a centre back and extremely talented on the ball. I cant say that i believe in jones or smalling because i don’t, they make too many mistakes and too often gets taken to the cleaners. MKeane is one hell of a defender and certainly haves a big future at the club, time he gets an opportunity with the first team. I don’t really know who we could buy – vermaelen, de vrij has been written as done deals but wait on that and than there’s hummels, mangala stories as well so who really knows but van gaal will certainly buy a new centre back, maybe 2. What is a done deal is that Evans will be one of the main men now and he is certainly up for it.

  2. Thank you to Patrice, Rio and Nemanja.Yes Evans is the man.Like Van Persie
    Evans needs fitness management.Both were brilliant when we won the title.
    But,Moyes did not respect that science, as he knew better.
    Judging by the targets mentioned so far, I believe that Smalling and Jones are on their way.Roy Keane got it right, both have got worse.Young Keane and Evans are going to stay. Do not be surprised if 11 new signings come in and the outstanding under 21’s are given a chance.

  3. putting rafael da silva,smalling & jones on market will be good for the reds,then spend on hummels,vrij&mangala to tighten van gaal’s defense culd make the rising of the shaky united under the frustrated defense of de former united manager david moyes

  4. Peter said “Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera have signed for just under 60 million pounds”. In my opinion, both of them are way overpriced, especially Shaw. If United had a better negotiator, I believed they can be signed for just half the price United paid.
    As for replacing Vidic and Ferdinand, I prefer they sign Vermaelen, because what United’s defense needed most now is experienced and leadership. Vermaelen will provide both, since he was a captain at Arsenal and have been playing for a long time in EPL. He can be a mentor for United’s younger defenders.

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