You will struggle to find a Manchester United fan who doesn’t admit that there are many, many problems at the club. Off the pitch arguments, Ed Woodward’s bomb-proof pockets, Jose Mourinho’s press conference antics, the list goes on.
Focusing on the pitch, there are just as many issues. Romelu Lukaku’s wastefulness in front of goal in key games has cost Manchester United already this season. The midfield has potential but Fred still needs time to adjust and Paul Pogba needs to consistently step up.
However, let’s take a look at the glaringly obvious problem; the defence.
The days of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are a distant memory and the current crop of centre-backs are laughable compared to those legends. Using last season’s statistics, are any of them really worthy of the Manchester United shirt?
Bambi would be less shaky on the ball
The problem within the problem is that none of the current centre-backs are comfortable in possession.
Looking at the statistics, as well as the first couple games of this season, it’s clear that Bailly’s confidence on the ball has fallen off a cliff since his time at Villareal. When he first arrived at United, he was assured, not just in possession but as a whole. Now, the situation has got to a point where we have to concede that Victor Lindelof is the best with the ball? His statistics say so, with 46.22 successful passes per 90, with Phil Jones just behind. The much-maligned Lindelof still looks shaky, but out of the four, he has the most time on his side to improve and already makes the least errors per 90.
The numbers are put to shame when compared to someone like Virgil Van Dijk, who completes an average of over 75 successful passes per 90. This is symptomatic not of a player’s ability, but of their confidence. There is no doubt Manchester United defenders can hit Van Dijk’s level, any Premier League footballer should be able to pass the ball competently. Instead, with the starting lineup changing every week, players are playing within themselves which leads to nervousness which, inevitably, leads to defensive errors.
With the defence being called into action more than ever before, the number of tackles and blocks have increased. In terms of pure defending, Phil Jones comes out on top. Not the prettiest player by any means, Jones thrives when the backs are against the wall, with 0.86 tackles won and 0.77 blocks per 90. These are impressive numbers when compared to the very best in the league, with Eric Bailly lagging behind. However, a title-challenging defence can’t rely on the fitness of Phil Jones. A bench role is well-suited to him.
Chris Smalling comes out neither best nor worst in the statistics, however, when partnered with Jones last season, it was nothing short of shambolic. A duo who have came through from a young age in the system should have a telepathic understanding by now, yet communication is their biggest flaw.
Looking at the statistics, Manchester United are crying out for a ball-playing centre-back. Victor Lindelof was supposed to be that, but he is very much one for the future and may well come into his own when the situation has been stabilised. Phil Jones is in the right place right now, as in he suits the bench. Chris Smalling should be shown the door at some point and this season must be last-chance saloon for Eric Bailly. Conclusion: change is needed.