Going into the 2018-19 season, the area that needs bolstering the most is clear.
Manchester United have statistically had one of the best defences in the Premier League for a number of years, but David de Gea’s brilliance has masked the club’s notable faults at the back.
The fact that Man United’s recent managers have been defensive-minded has also helped curtail the number of goals conceded, however, it really is no surprise the club haven’t mounted a respectable title challenge since the 2012-13 campaign, especially when one takes a closer look at José Mourinho’s current options.
Let’s review the current defenders United have at their disposal and ask whether they should be in the squad when August rolls around.
Who has a role to play in the squad?
Antonio Valencia looks set to not only once again be United’s first-choice right-back this season, but he’s also expected to be named as Michael Carrick’s successor for captaincy of the team.
He’ll have stronger competition for a place in the side though, as young FC Porto full-back Diogo Dalot will act as back-up following his £19m move in June and eventually Valencia’s replacement.
Eric Bailly endured a frustrating 2017-18 campaign stricken with injuries and absences but will be hoping to restore his reputation as first choice centre-back this term alongside – hopefully – a new arrival.
Despite the new central defender expected to join Mourinho’s squad before the summer transfer window slams shut, Marcos Rojo and Victor Lindelöf are both solid options to fill in when required, with the latter more of a star for the future than anything.
Luke Shaw’s future is as up in the air as anyone’s at United going into the new season, but I strongly believe he should stay for at least one more year to try and right the wrongs and, ultimately, win over his manager.
The 23-year-old’s deal expires in July 2019, meaning he can leave on a free transfer at the end of the campaign if it’s another filled with misery, so it truly is last chance saloon for him this time around.
Ashley Young is the man who acted as first choice left-back last season, despite that not actually being his natural position, and he could be set to start the campaign as that once again.
Following a strong World Cup campaign with England, Young fully deserves his place in the squad and will play a key role if United fail to bring in a new left-sided defender by the end of the transfer window.
Who should be on their way out?
It’s no secret that United have been in negotiations with Juventus for Matteo Darmian all summer, but The Old Lady are unwilling to pay the price Mourinho values him at.
Darmian has had a poor career at Old Trafford since joining in 2015 and his dire showing in United’s 2-1 defeat at Bristol City last term all-but sealed his fate.
The club want him to leave, he wants to leave, so hopefully something gets agreed sooner rather than later – he has travelled to the USA for pre-season training, though.
Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have both been great servants to United, but now simply feels like the perfect time for them to move on. Due to Bailly’s reoccurring injuries since arriving in 2016, Smalling especially has been a regular fixture in the back line but is disliked by fans and pundits alike.
Jones’ mistake in the FA Cup Final defeat to Chelsea in May summed up his clumsiness and waste of potential – he’s not good enough to play for the club and there are plenty of better options out there.
Who needs minutes elsewhere?
Both players spent the 17-18 season on loan and I believe that’s what they should opt for this term as well; Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Axel Tuanzebe certainly have what it takes to make it as United players but it’s difficult to see where they would get game time at the moment.
Fosu-Mensah was arguably the more impressive of the two as he starred as a regular centre-back in the top-flight with Crystal Palace, while Tuanzebe helped Aston Villa to the Championship Play-Off Final and should be able to make the step up if lesser Premier League teams want to test him out.