After two resurgent performances by Manchester United, normality resumed for José Mourinho’s players this season as they suffered an embarrassing defeat to Juventus. It wasn’t the scoreline that caused public outrage, it was the fact that the Bianconeri were toying with United, who simply could not get anywhere close to them.
While Mourinho has spent a fortune since arriving in Manchester midway through 2016, the money allocated and spent has, arguably, not been enough. Coaching can always be improved upon, and there are managers who are very good at developing players, but Mourinho’s philosophy and reputation suggests his speciality is in assembling world-class squads that can go and win major honours in a relatively short period of time.
When Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, hired the Portuguese boss, he knew what he was signing for. In essence, it was a short-term fix. Mourinho has not usually survived past three years in a job and history indicates his influence quickly deteriorates due to the demands he gives and the expectations put on his shoulders by himself. And so the former Chelsea manager expects the executives above him, this being Woodward at Manchester United, to follow his orders and sign the players he envisages are paramount in taking the club back to where they belong.
However, it has not been plain sailing for Mourinho in his battle with the board. Last summer saw United desperately trying to recruit a new centre back, only for Woodward to veto plans for Harry Maguire and Toby Alderweireld due to his opinion that they were not better than what the club already had. This, quite understandably, upset Mourinho, who now has to pay the price of missing out on players he values.
In the Red Devils’ opening nine games, they have conceded 16 goals, the fifth-highest amount in the Premier League. What was once Mourinho’s bread and butter is now one of his main problems with his defenders constantly getting caught out. The defensive ill discipline shown this season is astounding.
With that being said, Man United are going to be entering the January and 2019 summer market with an eye on central defenders to bolster their weak backline. Here are three that could slot right in:
Kalidou Koulibaly: SSC Napoli
Easily the most expensive centre back on this list, Kalidou Koulibaly is most certainly in the conversation as one of the best defenders of his generation. Playing under Carlo Ancelotti for Napoli, the Senegal international has been a consistent rock in both his club and country’s defences.
Napoli’s president, Aurelio De Laurentiis, has mentioned on a number of occasions that his star defender is not for sale. Having rejecting extremely lucrative bids in the past, it would take an enormous, world-record bid to prize Koulibaly away from Naples. What would also be a determining factor would be the Senegalese’s motivation for pastures new – without that player influence, the president can continue to reject what comes before him.
In terms of fitting into the Premier League, Koulibaly would have no qualms about the adaptation. Standing tall at 1m87, the former KRC Genk centre back is a powerhouse and commands respect from his aggression in the tackle. While the physical attributes of him easily stand out when first watching him, Koulibaly is also a very talented ball player, hence why he is one of the most sought out players in the world – he has the best of both worlds.
Man United have been lacking a true leader to demand high standards throughout for a number of years. Under Sir Alex Ferguson and with the central pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić, the players around them had an aura of confidence due to knowing their impact and defensive stability. In the post-Ferguson era, United have missed that and would welcome a player such as Koulibaly who can most definitely bring that presence to Old Trafford.
Milan Škriniar: Inter
A relatively unknown defender that has come out of the woodwork to wider Europe, Milan Škriniar is leading the line for a new period for talented centre backs this season.
Coming from Slovakia, there were certainly going to be question marks over whether he could truly adjust to Serie A’s technical side, but Škriniar slotted in Vincenzo Montella’s back three perfectly. Having the ability to play out of the back and the raw speed to be used as one of the wider central defenders, Škriniar posed a threat going forward as well as making sure he was effective in thwarting danger.
After impressive for a year-and-a-half, it wasn’t too long until the bigger clubs in Italy started to show their interest. It was Inter who won the battle and signed him in the summer of 2017 for a modest £25 million. Given what centre backs are currently going for, and bearing in mind his age of just 23, the Nerazzurri can claim they got themselves a bargain.
Škriniar certainly has more developing to go and is not at the truly elite level yet, but he also hasn’t hit his prime years. His performance against Barcelona, in the most recent round of the Champions League, showed why fans and scouts rate him so highly. The Slovakian international glided on the Camp Nou pitch and ushered his opposition out of dangerous positions – especially Philippe Coutinho. While Inter lost that game, Škriniar came out of it with his head held high and with a lot more admirers.
Manchester United might need a more experienced centre back, but age is only a number and Škriniar is proving that he has the calm head a clear thinking process to make a difference in Mourinho’s defence.
Benjamin Pavard: VfB Stuttgart
After coming off the back of an immense summer which saw Benjamin Pavard score one of the goals of the World Cup, as well as winning the illustrious trophy, it was always going to be interesting to see how the France international would come back to club football with Stuttgart.
A modest-sized team in Germany, Pavard is not surrounded by the global icons of the game on a day-to-day basis, with many predicting that he would have found himself a new home post-World Cup.
However, that wasn’t meant to be and Pavard’s repaid the faith shown in him by Stuttgart and has remained at the club for the foreseeable future. While there are reports suggesting he might have a gentleman’s agreement with the club which allows him to move to Bayern Munich next summer, nothing has been confirmed.
Pavard, 22, is still in the early stages of his career, but he has shown his maturity and selflessness with his country by playing at right back for the whole of the tournament. With injuries within the squad, Didier Deschamps opted for the former Lille youth graduate on the right-hand side for more defensive stability.
However, what would have even surprised Deschamps was Pavard’s eagerness to get forward and pose a threat to the opposition. His goal against Argentina was struck with such elegance and panache; it showed Pavard’s talents on full display in front of the world. What has also been noted is his wonderful versatility given that he is actually a natural centre back and was only filling in for France at right back.
The Red Devils could do with Pavard’s cool and collected spirit when taking the ball out of the defence and looking for a pass to carve open the opposition’s midfield. The Frenchman looks adept with the ball at his feet and, unlike some at Old Trafford, understands when the right time to give the pass is.
Whether or not he has an agreement with other clubs remains to be seen, but Stuttgart are not going to let go of their prized possession for cheap. The German club know what a talent he is and the career he’s projected to have, so if Manchester United want to join the queue for Pavard, they are going to have pay a pretty penny.
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