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Manchester United need to upgrade their central defensive options next season

by Conner Botterill

Champions League football will return to Manchester United next season thanks to a third place finish in the Premier League under the guidance of new manager Erik ten Hag.

The Dutch boss also ended United’s six-year trophy drought by winning the Carabao Cup against Newcastle in February.

However, a few heavy defeats throughout the season, as well as a disappointing end to the Europa League campaign, drew criticism from some quarters.

On his arrival, Ten Hag quickly seeked to address United’s issues at centre-back and bought in Lisandro Martinez, who he knew so well from his time at Ajax.

And despite a outstanding first season in England by Martinez, coupled the strong relationship struck-up with Raphael Varane, when fit, it’s still clear United need to upgrade their options at the heart of defence.

Unfortunately, club captain Harry Maguire has ran out of credits and he should be put out of his Old Trafford misery this summer.

Victor Lindelöf deputised well when Martinez and Varane were missing at the back end of the season but question marks remain over the Swede, if he’s needed for any kind of prolonged period.

Cover behind Lindelöf and Maguire is wafer thin to the point Luke Shaw has found himself playing centre-half too often throughout the season and despite playing well, he is needed at left-back and cannot be seen as a long term solution.

With Varane another year older and seemingly incapable of getting through a season without spells on the treatment table, another top class defender is needed at Old Trafford.

A right-back has been mooted as more important to upgrade than centre-back given Ten Hag is not fully sold on Aaron Wan-Bissaka or Diogo Dalot.

However, if not spectacular, the two options on the right are solid enough and have different attributes that can be used in different games.

Wan-Bissaka is a fantastic one vs. one defender and Dalot has ability to get forward and support the attack. Additionally, both can still improve under Ten Hag given their age and profile.

The central defensive issues are much more prevalent given the dip in performance United suffer when the first choice is not available.

The evidence was never clearer than United’s capitulation on occasion this season where one, or both, of the first team centre-half were missing.

Brentford ripped through United in the disastrous opening 45 minutes of Ten Hag’s first away game in the Premier League – United walked in at half time 4-0 behind, with Varane watching on.

A few weeks later, Varane went down with an injury at the Etihad with City leading by one goal, the Frenchman couldn’t recover, was quickly replaced by Lindelöf and City ended up with six.

The aforementioned Europa League collapse also came with Varane and Martinez off the field.

United were cruising in the quarter-final first leg, two goals up at half time and barely breaking a sweat. Varane left the field early in the second half and Sevilla pulled one back. Martinez then suffered a season ending injury in the final moments and the Spaniards levelled.

The return leg saw Maguire and Lindelöf, albeit with a bit of help from David de Gea, falter under Sevilla’s pressure and the eventual competition winners stormed through by three goals to nil.

If United are serious about mounting a title charge next season, they need to arm Ten Hag with the correct tools to do so. And if a choice needs to be made between centre back and right back, the former must be a higher priority.

Plenty of names have been linked with bolstering Ten Hag’s options at centre-back but despite the obvious need, United are no closer to getting someone through the door.

Napoli defender Kim Min-Jae was touted but is now Bayern Munich bound with United’s tardiness in the market and lack of clarity on budget costing them dear.

Manchester City’s embarrassment of riches at centre-back saw them secure the Treble last season and despite all the adulation surrounding Erling Haaland, it was their tightening up at the heart of their defence that got them over the line.

it was a similar story when Liverpool tilted the scales in Jurgen Klopp’s favour with Virgil van Dijk’s signing and he lead them to Premier League and Champions League glory.

United must address the issue in the centre of their defence before worrying about the full backs, who have proven themselves to have enough between them to be strong enough options when called upon.

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