Opinion: Who is Manchester United's third centre-back?
Manchester United have started preparing for their trip to the Vitality Stadium but they have serious issues pertaining to their defence at the moment. Jose Mourinho is hugely impressed with Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof and has persisted with them ever since the game against Newcastle (where United's small but effective turnaround began).
In the match referred to above, Mourinho had started with Ivory Coast international Eric Bailly but a costly error on his part led the former to substitute him with Juan Mata in the nineteenth minute itself. Marouane Fellaini went behind to play as a centre-half and Bailly has not got any game time since.
Smalling and Lindelof have started all of United's game after that but it has to be taken into consideration that both of them run the risk of getting weary and may want a well-deserved rest.
So who is going to be the next man Jose Mourinho will turn to in cases of injuries and Smalling and Lindelof's needs to be rested? Although it seems that Bailly's Manchester United career looks over under Jose Mourinho, will the Portuguese swallow his ego and go back to his most technically gifted defender?
Or will he take a chance with the now-fit but highly injury-prone Marcos Rojo? Axel Tuanzebe, a gifted youngster, is away on loan with Aston Villa and so Mourinho will have to make do with the resources he has at hand.
It seems highly unlikely that Mourinho will go back to Bailly. That leaves only Rojo in the mix. If either of Smalling and Lindelof breaks down or want rest, the Argentine will receive a call-up to the United first XI. However, he is coming back from a long injury lay-off and may seem a bit rusty.
That leaves Mourinho with playing either of Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matic or Scott McTominay as centre-backs. He trusts the latter a lot and is impressed with his control on the ball and thus McTominay may get the nod.
The deeper question here is that Manchester United do not have world-class central defenders in their ranks. They need to invest wisely in the January transfer window and go for their long-time targets Gary Cahill, Toby Alderweireld and Milan Skriniar. The first two are dissatisfied at their respective clubs and will add experience to United. Skriniar, on the other hand, is just 23 years old and will be an investment for the future.
Reports state that United's board have rejected Jose Mourinho's proposal for a complete defensive overhaul in January and this sounds depressing, but Mourinho must persist and the board needs to see the bigger picture here- that of Manchester United turning towards mediocrity.