Manchester United’s defensive frailties have often come under the scanner in recent seasons. The introduction of Harry Maguire has provided Manchester United with much-needed solidity at the back. However, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is yet to find the perfect partner for his £80m signing.
Victor Lindelof has done brilliantly and remains one of United’s most underrated players. However, Manchester United need a world-class duo at the back if they are to mount a title challenge to rivals Liverpool and Manchester City next season.
Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling, and Phil Jones could all be departing this summer with potential suitors lining up. Eric Bailly has had his share of injury concerns and Axel Tuanzebe and Teden Mengi are still progressing, which leaves Manchester United with limited reliable options at the back. Therefore, it would come as no big surprise if a high-profile centre-back is seen trodding at Old Trafford in the coming months.
There have been murmurs for a while that Manchester United are definitely in the market for a left-footed centre-back. Solskjaer's little talk with Nathan Ake after Manchester United's victory against Bournemouth has sparked speculation about the Norwegian being interested in signing the defender.
Therefore, in this section, we take a look at five left-footed centre-backs who could partner Harry Maguire in defence for Manchester United.
5. Tyrone Mings
Aston Villa’s massive result against Crystal Palace on Sunday meant that they still have a chance to avoid relegation going into the final three matchdays of the Premier League season. However, if they are to drop down to the Championship again, it would mean that some of their key players will be knocking on the door.
Club captain Jack Grealish has already been linked to a host of top European clubs including Manchester United, City, and Borussia Dortmund. Although their top-scorer could cost an eyebrow-raising £80 million, one of the Lions’ other star-men could be sold on the cheap.
27-year-old Tyrone Mings’ debut season at Villa Park did not go according to plan. But his impressive individual performances earned him his first England cap away to Bulgaria in October. The centre-back has been Dean Smith’s most reliable player at the back and has assumed responsibility as a leader of the team.
Manchester United's reported pursuit of a left-footed centre-back
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United are reportedly monitoring the former Bournemouth man and have lined him up as one of the potential centre-back options. Priced at just £30m, Mings could be a handy defensive acquisition by Manchester United, especially when they are expected to splash around £100m on Dortmund ace Jadon Sancho.
Pretty confident on the ball, Mings thrives on passing and building up play from the back, which is what caught the attention of Gareth Southgate. He is also often lauded for his incredible mentality and unmatched attitude by colleagues and managers.
Mings might not be the first choice for any Manchester United fan given the wealth of talent in Europe. However, it would not be a surprise if the Englishman is chosen as Harry Maguire’s partner.
4. Dan-Axel Zagadou
21-year-old defensive sensation Dan-Axel Zagadou has made waves across Europe on the back of his eye-catching performances for Borussia Dortmund this season. The French youngster accumulated 22 appearances in all competitions this term. Dortmund manager Lucien Favre has seemingly given him a permanent spot at the left side of the defence.
Once the captain of the France youth teams, Zagadou was primed for success at Paris Saint-Germain as a teenager. However, he switched to Germany at the tender age of 17 and has made significant strides since then.
Zagadou’s playing style has often been compared with national compatriot Samuel Umtiti. Extremely strong, robust and powerful aerially, he is a mammoth presence at the back. He is also comfortable and composed on the ball, often found spraying passes and playing out from the back.
Zagadou also showcased his adaptability when he was trusted at left-back by former manager Peter Stoger. However, his significant lack of pace made it difficult for him to do justice to the interim role.
It is no surprise that many top European clubs are already scouting the Dortmund defender. Manchester United rivals City and Arsenal have all been linked with Zagadou previously with an eye to bring him to the Premier League.
However, because City are looking for a right-sided defender, Manchester United could swoop in for the highly-rated left-footed youngster. Dan-Axel Zagadou has immense potential and a long career in front of him. And while many would feel that joining Manchester United could be a bit premature, he has already displayed his unmatched ambition and desire when he decided to leave France as a boy.
3. Pau Torres
Pau Torres has become one of the most sought-after young defenders in Europe after his impeccable displays at Villarreal this season. The 23-year-old has featured in all but four league matches this campaign in what is his breakthrough season at the Estadio de la Cerámica.
After a loan stint at Malaga last season, Torres was recalled by manager Javier Calleja and has become one of the first names in his starting line-up. He was also given his first international cap for Spain in November against Malta as he got on the scoresheet in a dream debut.
It was recently reported that Pau Torres is La Liga’s fastest defender this campaign. He clocked an incredible speed of 34.9 km which puts him among the top ten players in the division.
Torres is a textbook Spanish defender with his elite distribution, comfortability on the ball and participation in the buildup play. The left-footed centre-back would no doubt fit the Manchester United defence like a glove.
Dubbed as the ‘young Pique’, Torres recently revealed to El Periodico Mediterraneo that he is taking English lessons. This will be music to the ears of the bosses at Manchester United, Arsenal, City and Chelsea, all of whom have shown interest in the defender.
Pau Torres is valued at just less than £50m which will make for a hefty investment for Manchester United. However, he has excelled at one of La Liga’s top clubs and is also being touted as a future starter in the Spain national team. The Red Devils should, therefore, snatch the highly-talented defender before another top English club arrives at the scene.
2. Alessio Romagnoli
Ever since the legendary partnership of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, Manchester United have lacked leaders at the back. The defence has been remarkably inconsistent and unstable which has led to their fall from grace in recent years.
Harry Maguire’s addition to the squad was, in that sense, a blessing for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Englishman has been one of Manchester United’s best players since the turn of the year, as Manchester United have finally embarked on their journey to the English front-fold once again.
However, as mentioned earlier, Manchester United might be one left-footed centre-back away from challenging for the title. And if there is one player who ticks all the boxes for them, it is AC Milan skipper Alessio Romagnoli.
A product of Roma’s youth system, Romagnoli has become a fixture at the back for the Rossoneri in recent seasons. The 25-year-old is also predicted to be the future captain of the national team, such is his reputation in Italy.
A natural leader, Romagnoli is a prototype Italian centre-half: aggressive, commanding and authoritative. He is also technically gifted with an immaculate passing range as he is often found breaking the opponent’s press with ease.
The Milan captain is a complete defensive package, one which Manchester United were keen to bring in during Jose Mourinho’s last months as manager. His excellent performances at the San Siro have significantly rekindled that interest as the Red Devils look to sign up one of the hottest defenders in Europe.
Ralf Rangnick, who was recently appointed the Milan boss, would not want to sell the club captain before his first season in charge. And therefore, Ed Woodward would have to lure Alessio Romagnoli with a mouth-watering proposition to the Italian heavyweights.
1. Nathan Ake
Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake was seen being chatted up by Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after the teams met at Old Trafford earlier this month.
25-year-old Ake has become one of the Premier League’s most-wanted defenders after his consistent displays at Bournemouth. And the former Chelsea and Watford centre-back is now ready to take the next big step in his career.
Arsenal, City and Chelsea are all reportedly battling for Ake’s signature. However, it looks like Manchester United could be front-runners in the race. The talented Netherlands international has grown into a mature and dependable centre-half for Eddie Howe with his stock continuing to rocket.
Extremely pacy and dynamic, Ake is not easy to dribble past as his speed allows him to recover quickly. He also possesses a supreme passing ability and has also shown his quality heading from corners despite not being the tallest.
Although the likes of Romagnoli and Torres could be technically better than Ake, it is the latter’s experience in the Premier League which helps him top this list. A transition from Spain or Italy to England can be difficult for many players but Ake could make an instant impact at Old Trafford.
Manchester United’s priorities still lie in bringing Jadon Sancho to the club who they will have to break the bank for. In such a scenario, Solskjaer could prevent spending big on a central defender. Ake is currently priced at £40m but that could deplete even further if the Cherries are to get relegated. From a Manchester United point of view, therefore, this deal becomes a no-brainer.Published 13 Jul 2020, 14:03 IST