There has been a lot of talk about the need to invest in our defence in order for the players there to suit Erik ten Hag and his style of play.
The assumption is- he wants modern players, capable of playing with the ball, aggressive in their defending, and have a decent amount of pace.
Manchester United’s current centre-back options ahead of the new season are Harry Maguire, Raphael Varane, Victor Lindelof, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly, and Axel Tuanzebe. Let’s discuss each player’s profile with our Ten Hag goggles on:
Maguire gets a lot of stick, and quite rightfully so, for some of his poor performances, particularly in the last season.
But form aside, if we consider the type of player he is, he might actually suit both, Ten Hag and the Premier League.
Let’s just get it out of the way now- Maguire isn’t a world-class player but he is a good enough defender.
His ability to head the ball, his height and strength all mean he’s suited to English football.
He is great with the ball at his feet and he isn’t actually slow, he just has a poor turn of pace (in other words, bad acceleration).
Ten Hag, in theory, wouldn’t really have a problem with any of these traits and would be keen on such a player even. Once again, in theory Maguire should return to form. The kind of form that saw him linked with United and Manchester City in the first place.
Varane is another player who suits the Dutch manager. He’s the perfect modern defender and has the bags of acceleration and pace that Maguire lacks a little.
His heading might be short of top class but his biggest problem has been staying fit so far. Again, the hope is that can be resolved under Ten Hag who will be looking into the conditioning at United.
Now Lindelof is a different story. He has all the ball-playing qualities and intelligence to suggest the former Ajax man would love him but he’s arguably less suited to the Premier League than any of the Red Devils’ options.
If he’s happy with it, his role as a reliable back-up would suit him and United but he can’t be a regular starter for a title winning team unless they somehow cover up his weaknesses, which I can’t see happening.
Phil Jones and Eric Bailly are kind of in the same boat. They’re ok on the ball, their physical capabilities are what makes them good and suited for the league. But unfortunately they can’t avoid being out of action.
That kind of unreliability simply means even if they were the dream centre-backs, United can’t afford to hope they’d one day be fit regularly.
I’m also choosing to ignore all the history in regards to undeserved contracts and poor form but that’s a story for another day.
That leaves us with Tuanzebe. At his best, he’s the perfect mix of a modern defender and suits English football’s physicality. Unfortunately he’s not shown it on a regular basis.
The inconsistency doesn’t really seem to be down to him but rather numerous missed moments or a lack of opportunities.
His loan spells have been poorly planned (or his returns from them) and when he’s at the club, he’s been deemed unfit, injured, or simply not picked because of the need to choose other players.
If entrusted, Tuanzebe is probably Ten Hag’s dream centre-back based purely on traits and nothing else.
The question is, can you risk putting your faith in him ahead of Maguire who costed a tonne, Varane who’s clearly world-class, or Lindelof who’s been Mr Reliable for a while and doesn’t deserve the drop?
It’d be a big risk but it might pay off for Ten Hag and he wouldn’t have to part ways with a chunk of his tiny budget.
However, for all the theoretical and dream scenarios, it all boils down to what positions need the most investment and how much money will be left over.
The most urgent area in my opinion is the midfield, and that likely means not having enough money leftover after it’s sorted to bring in a top, proven centre-back alongside Varane.
If that’s the case, you might as well take a gamble on Tuanzebe, if he can prove he deserves that gamble first behind closed doors.