Manchester United set for logjam at centre-back but Chris Smalling, Phil Jones likely to stay

Aditya Devavrat 13:11 23/04/2019
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Victor Lindelof has blossomed into United's main defender.

With Manchester United set for a second straight season without silverware, all signs point to a big summer overhaul from newly-installed manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The Norwegian has spoken of the investment it will take to rebuild the squad so that it bridges the gap to clubs like Barcelona, who dumped United out of the Champions League this week.

While part of the rebuild will involve bringing in new players, Solskjaer and the rest of the club hierarchy will need to make cold, ruthless decisions about the ones already at the club.

Here, we look at how likely the current defenders at United are to remain at Old Trafford beyond this summer. Check out our analysis of the club’s goalkeepers, midfielders, and strikers as well.

Victor Lindelof

Victor Lindelof has emerged as United’s best defender this season, testament to his ability and determination. But is he ready to be the anchor of a side chasing major honours?

The club are all but certain to bring in at least one centre-back this summer, though perhaps the better option would be to bring in two top-class centre-backs who could help Lindelof develop without the pressure of having to perform at his best every single week as he continues to learn his trade. But the Swede is definitely not leaving the club, and may even be one of the back-up captains next season.

Likelihood of staying: 10/10

Luke Shaw

Like Lindelof, Luke Shaw has used this season to finally come good on his potential. At 23 he’s only going to improve, and if he continues on the trajectory he’s established this season he could end up being one of the best left-backs in England, if not Europe.

Of course, he still has to get better, and maybe United might bring an experienced player to help him do that. But it’s not a priority during a summer where several other positions need upgrades. And Shaw’s definitely not going anywhere.

Likelihood of staying: 10/10

Eric Bailly

The hope at United was that Eric Bailly and Lindelof would develop into the new Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand partnership, Bailly the new-age warrior defender and Lindelof the ice-cool reincarnation of Ferdinand.

But the Ivorian’s rashness and occasional deer-in-the-headlights defending have seen him fall way after a promising start to his United career. He’s not likely to leave, but he could do with learning from better defenders while he grows into his own, and that’s probably what’s going to happen as United target a new centre-back. Bailly’s personal goal next season should be to make sure he gets ahead of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones in the pecking order.

Likelihood of staying: 8/10

Diogo Dalot

Diogo Dalot has been at the club for less than a year, and though Solskjaer has been reluctant to trust the young Portugal star as a defender, he’s put in a few promising displays as a makeshift winger. Such is the way of the modern game, Dalot is a fine attacking full-back but the defensive side of his game does need some work.

United are almost certain to buy a new right-back this summer, with 33-year-old converted winger Ashley Young doing an admirable, if reluctant and unreliable job for the last few years, but Dalot will be allowed to develop at the club. Any new recruit will automatically spur the 20-year-old on to improve, but won’t push Dalot out of the club just yet.

Likelihood of staying: 10/10

Phil Jones

Usually, an inconsistent, injury-prone player who has yet to truly prove himself after seven seasons at the same club is the sort of player a manager would cut their losses on. But United handed Phil Jones a new contract in January, so are they really going to sell him in the summer?

They are set to have a logjam at centre-back. All signs point to United recruiting at least one player at the position, one who would walk into the starting XI. Lindelof has been the club’s most consistent defender this season and Bailly offers more upside than Jones at this point.

Axel Tuanzebe, a player of huge potential, will return from a season-long loan having proved his quality at Aston Villa. Even with his new contract, the Englishman is set to be a bit-part player unless he can finally sort out long-standing issues over fitness and form that have seen Jones fall well short of the now-infamous standard Sir Alex Ferguson set for him when he said the defender could become the greatest player in United’s history.

Likelihood of staying: 8/10

Chris Smalling

Like Jones, Smalling has his detractors in the game, but he has been the Red Devils’ most consistent option in the centre for a numbers of seasons. And while he is vilified by the media and United fans alike, he rarely lets United down.

Whether Ferguson expected much when buying him from Fulham in 2010 – having joined the Cottagers from non-league Maidstone – Smalling’s biggest crime seems to be the simple fact that he isn’t and won’t ever be an elite central defender. But that’s hardly his fault and, considering he’s at one of the biggest clubs in the world during their lowest ebb in three decades, he deserves far more credit than he receives.

There are days when he looks like the best defender at the club, and others when he still looks like a fish out of water. Though he’s improved in many regards, he still tends to look uncomfortable on the ball at times and isn’t the most accomplished passer, traits that have become prerequisites for the modern defender.

But again like Jones, Smalling was given a new contract in January. That makes it unlikelier that the Englishman will leave this summer. But both defenders are set to fall down the pecking order, and though they’ll be around next season don’t be surprised if it ends up being their last at the club.

Likelihood of staying: 9/10

Ashley Young

Ashley Young’s conversion from winger to full-back has finally hit the rocks as it was seemingly always destined for. There was a good three-year spell where the Englishman’s performance in defence was not just serviceable but at times, full of genuine quality.

But over the last month his form has gone – a player into his mid-30s should not be in a position of having played 40+ games for one of the biggest teams in world football, and while anyone can recover from a dip, for a player who turns 34 this summer this latest spell seems terminal.

Shaw is entrenched as the first-choice left-back and right-back is one of the positions where United are constantly being linked with several transfer targets, so it’s unlikely that Young is a starting XI player next season.

On the other hand, he was handed a new contract in January and has been installed as de facto club captain. He’s likely not going anywhere, but his role next season should be greatly reduced to being a back-up and senior figure.

Likelihood of staying: 9/10

Matteo Darmian

It’s never worked out for Matteo Darmian at United, which is a shame. He arrived as a promising defensive prospect and is set to leave, possibly for one of Italy’s biggest clubs with Inter Milan, having rarely gotten a consistent run in the side and shifted around from right-back, his natural position, to left-back to centre-back in a back three. Not the best circumstances for his development, and yet he’s been a model professional throughout.

He was linked with an exit last summer and though no move materialised, it almost certainly will this summer. A return home is the best outcome for all parties.

Likelihood of staying: 0/10

Marcos Rojo

Rojo is another defender who has struggled to stay fit and find consistency while at United, like Jones and Smalling. His rashness makes him a liability, and though his versatility – he can play at left-back as well as centre-back – is a positive trait, it might not be enough to keep him at the club beyond this season.

According to the Argentine, Solskjaer was in his ear constantly during his recovery from a long-standing injury, and he has slowly been reintegrated into the first team. But given the number of centre-backs already at the club and at least one new player joining, it’s hard to see how Rojo has a future at United beyond the end of this season. At best he could be kept on as a back-up left-back, but an exit is more likely.

Likelihood of staying: 3/10

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