Home » Manchester United 2020/21 Season Loan Watch: Defenders

Manchester United 2020/21 Season Loan Watch: Defenders

by Colm Murphy

With leagues coming to an end across Europe, it is time to look back and evaluate on player performances at the club but also those young talents who have spent the season out on loan.

Throughout the season, Manchester United sent out 15 players on loan. With destinations across the UK and Europe, it is difficult for supporters to keep up with the development of United’s loan stars.

In this series we will be covering how each of them fared during their times on loan, starting with the defenders.

Ethan Laird

A high flying full-back, Laird has been often considered by youth followers as a top talent on par with the likes of Mason Greenwood coming through the ranks. The main question mark has been over his persistent injuries over the past two years.

After being sidelined yet again in September for the u23s, major concerns were growing over the effect his injuries issues were causing on his development.

Joining MK Dons in January, the England youth international looks to have put the injuries behind him though and he made 25 appearances for the League One outfit, not missing a single match day squad he was eligible for.

Starting off with a baptism of fire, Laird’s first appearance came off the bench against Premier League opposition Burnley. The level of competition was no fear for the rampaging right-back, who immediately garnered praise from his manager and supporters.

MK Dons manager, Russell Martin, said of his debut “He’s brought in a real enthusiasm, real energy as a character – which I really, really like.”

Martin’s fondness for Laird was evident as the teenager went straight into the starting lineup the following match, nailing down the spot to make 23 starts in the remaining 25 league matches.

Picking up four assists in his time at MK Dons, Laird relished the freedom given as a right wing-back in Martin’s three at the back system.

It is not only the manager who Laird has impressed during his time in Milton Keynes, club captain Dean Lewington has also said “he’s really improved since he first came here, he’s come on leaps and bounds. It’s just a shame we won’t get to keep him.”

What’s next for Laird is likely another loan next season, possibly in the Championship.

One thing United might look for in a new loan club is a four at the back system to get Laird the defensive experience of playing in the right-back role. Something which was noted as his one weakness at MK Dons and was given the freedom to ignore with Lewington claiming “I try and do as much of his defensive duties as I can to help him express himself.”

Teden Mengi

After spending the first half of the season around Ole’s first team squad, Mengi joined Derby County in January.
Being led by United legend Wayne Rooney, the young centre-back had a slow introduction with only one start in his first month with the Rams.

By March, after a change in formation to three at the back, a position opened up for the pacey defender to string together a run of matches.

Mengi eventually picked up nine appearances before suffering a season-ending hamstring injury.

An up and down spell, Mengi’s assessment by Steve Nicholson of the Derbyshire Telegraph against Reading sums up the general feeling of his loan. Earning a rating of “5.5, similar to Andre Wisdom, very steady in the first half but caught out at times in the second half.”

Despite not getting to fully impress the supporters with his talents, the Manchester native did leave a lasting impression on Rooney, opening the door for a possible return next season.

Speaking on the defender after his injury in April, Rooney said “I think he has been fantastic for us, you can see him growing with each game and he is someone I will keep in contact with.”

The former United skipper also added that he has spoken to his former club already and now “It is on the player, really.”

With recent reports linking several centre-backs to an Old Trafford move, a return to Derby for a full season loan looks on the cards for Teden Mengi.

Di’Shon Bernard

Initially joining Manchester United from Chelsea in 2017, Bernard has largely gone under the radar until his first team debut in the Europa League against Astana in 2019.

Looking to build on his initial taste of senior football, Bernard joined Salford City of League Two in October, just a matter of weeks after playing a part in the u23s 6-0 trouncing of Salford in the EFL Trophy.

It did not take long for the young centre-back to grab the headlines showing off his defending and attacking skills with two assists and a fantastic defensive header against Morecambe.

Under a fellow United product in Richie Wellens, Bernard became a key figure of Salford’s back-line, picking up the PFA Fans’ player of the month for December.

The youngster’s successful season took a downward turn in March though, after the sacking of Richie Wellens. New manager Gary Bowyer immediately benched Bernard despite his impressive season, signifying the importance a stable manager and club has on the success of a loan.

Bernard managed to change the mind of Bowyer a month later and was back in the starting line-up, albeit out of position at right-back. Ultimately, the change in manager led to a fizzling end to a successful season for Bernard, ending with 30 appearances and two goals and two assists to his name.

Having put a successful season under his belt, the 20 year old will be looking to take the next step up to League One with potentially another loan.

Diogo Dalot

Struggling on the outside of Ole’s plans, Dalot joined AC Milan in October with United reportedly refusing to add a buy-out option.

The Portuguese full-back’s initial months in Milan were mainly isolated to performances in the Europa League, where he picked up a goal and two assists in the group stage.

Due to his versatility, Dalot was able to deputise both right and left-back positions picking up a healthy 32 appearances for the Milan giants.

Two of those appearances, by a rare coincidence, came against parent club Manchester United. An impressive display in the first leg even garnered praise from United legend Paul Scholes who said “he played in an unfamiliar position tonight, on that left side, but even his crossing with his left foot was brilliant. I thought defensively he did everything he had to do.”

The 22 year old’s lasting impression on the Rossoneri faithful has ultimately been much of the same as his time at United, a mixed bag.

One AC Milan supporter on Reddit said “Dalot puts commitment and he is a good guy but unfortunately he is not good enough. Defensively he is very bad. He cannot keep up with the opponent. I still believe that he has to be placed higher up on the pitch but in defence he is a liability.”

While on the topic of signing Dalot permanently another supporter stated “fully depends on the price. I’ve been a fan of him for a while and I like his versatility but I wouldn’t want us to pay more than 15m for him but there’s no way United would let him go for that cheap.”

Moving forward, Dalot’s future at the moment is currently up in the air, with reports suggesting AC Milan will opt against signing him or may favour another loan.

Keep a look out for our next season loan watch feature on midfielders – out soon!

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