Heading into this weekends showdown against Real Madrid, unbeaten Manchester United look great, bringing a 3-0-0 record and a goal differential of +8 with them to Ann Arbor, Michigan, since they’ve arrived to the United States for their pre-season tour. But, despite the club looking good, and far greater then they did at any point a year ago under David Moyes, fans are still scratching their heads wondering what Louis Van Gaal has up his sleeve when it comes to his defence.
All summer long, Manchester United has been rumoured with new centre-backs.
Everyone knew, even prior to the World Cup, that Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels was not going to happen. Dortmund just doesn’t sell stars with over a year left on their contract. It’s not the way they do business. Meanwhile, Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan De Vrij, both played under Van Gaal at the World Cup for the Netherlands, did leave Feyenoord, as rumoured, just not to Manchester. Martins Indi joined FC Porto while De Vrij left for Lazio. Surprisingly, neither player cost too much either. One would have thought, had United have interest, they could have out-matched the final offers they received from their clubs. Another target, Eliaquim Mangala, is on the verge of leaving FC Porto to join United’s cross-town rival Manchester City.
So, what gives? What is the plan? During the World Cup, former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand offered his opinion. Apparently he got sick of all the rumours and let twitter know what he thought. He tweeted in support of giving Phil Jones and Jonny Evans a chance. Saying they deserved the opportunity to prove themselves.
Personally the young CB’s at @ManUtd deserve a chance to prove themselves…i believe in them all.Time will tell.
— Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) July 2, 2014
So far on the pre-season tour, Van Gaal has played Jones, Evans and Smalling together in a 3-defensive back formation with 2 wing backs. The trio has played together 90 minutes total. They completely shutdown Los Angeles in the opening match, but that was expected. The trio, however, also continued their great play against Inter Milan. In the 45-minutes they played together, they only gave up one shot to Inter. Despite United starting backup goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard, Inter really couldn’t get close to the Danish keeper or gain enough space to challenge Lindegaard.
Jones, just 22, is entering his most significant season of all. It’s the year he must become a dominant force. Based on last seasons statistics, he’s well on his way to becoming that player. Jones had a impressive season despite the team having issues defensively. Evans, on the other hand, is still only 26. And has already played in over 100 matches, a stat most fans don’t realise until they look it up. At 26, he’s into his prime and is a veteran on the club. Evans also rivals Hummels in air duels per 90-minutes metrics, a weakness of Jones. Surely, if both players can improve on their flaws, they could become a great duo at central defence. Van Gaal demands his defenders must have good communication and be good passers. Jones is a 89% passer while Evans 87%, both impressive numbers and higher then Hummels was last season in Dortmund.
Of course, transfers are still possible. Often rumoured for the past few months Thomas Vermaelen could still be a possibility. A veteran, leader, good passer and a product of Ajax Amsterdam, could add depth and stability to the back. Van Gaal could also go Dutch, with Premier League veteran Ron Vlaar. A player Van Gaal could trust and someone who knows the league really well. Vlaar also played fantastic for Van Gaal at the World Cup, despite missing the first penalty kick against Argentina in the semi-final. That miss overshadowed Vlaar’s game that day, which could have been the man of the match, had the Netherlands won.
Van Gaal also loves youth and could go with a young kid, as an insurance, while playing Jones, Evans and Smalling. Someone like FC Basel’s Fabian Schar comes to mind. If Van Gaal wants to go young, this 6’2 future Swiss star could be the perfect target.
What do you think? Are you ok with what United has, or should Van Gaal go shopping for defensive reinforcements?