Victor Lindelof may have just won the Swedish Golden Ball for a second consecutive season, but his performances at the heart of Manchester United’s defence have left some fans less than convinced.
The former Benfica defender signed a new long-term contract as recently as September, however, his recent displays have left many fans wondering whether he has the pace and power to partner Harry Maguire for the foreseeable future. We take a look at five other possible players who could be the future of the Red Devils defence.
United transformed their transfer policy in the summer, prioritising young, British talent. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has also given chances to several youth players during this campaign with the likes of Brandon Williams, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood all making their debuts under the Norwegian. Therefore, it would not be surprising to see the solution to United’s defensive conundrum come from within. Axel Tuanzebe has caught the eye in the limited chances he’s had so far this season, with injury restricting the 22-year-olds appearances.
The powerful centre-half spent last season on loan at Aston Villa, helping the midlands club back into the top-flight and gaining a lot of admirers in the process. Whether he is ready to make the step up and cement his place alongside Maguire is unknown, but the potential is obvious for all to see. Fikayo Tomori at Chelsea is blossoming under Frank Lampard after a year at Derby County in England’s second division and many United fans hope Tuanzebe could replicate his compatriot if Solskjaer places the same faith in him that Lampard has shown with Tomori.
Chris Smalling may not be the first name on many United fans lips, but some are calling for the 29-year-old to be brought back to Old Trafford early after impressing in Serie A with Roma. The former Fulham defender is currently on-loan in the eternal city and is enjoying his time there. Several reports have come out recently stating the capital club want to make the move permanent although no concrete offers have been made just yet, as reported by Sky Sports.
Smalling has been at Old Trafford for over 9 years now and despite showing early promise, never really established himself as United’s first choice centre back. He did have to play a large proportion of those games next to the hapless Phil Jones though, and the prospect of the Englishman playing alongside the far more talented and composed Maguire is a combination which could get some fans excited. Nevertheless, the likelihood of Solskjaer giving the two-time Premier league winner another chance seems slim and with Roma’s sporting director Gianluca Petrachi previously stating, “if Smalling wants to stay, we will open talks with United. The relationship between our clubs is excellent and we will evaluate this possibility” it seems a move away is to be expected.
Napoli are facing somewhat of a mini crisis after only picking up 19 points from their opening 12 games of the new season. Star defender, Kalidou Koulibaly, has reportedly had to hire bodyguards (via Daily Mail), along with other top Napoli players, in order to protect himself from the sides Ultras. This has led to several reports stating that the Senegalese is now available for a greatly reduced £69million, as per The Sun. It is still a hefty price tag but a considerable amount less than the total United paid for Harry Maguire and over £20million less than what was quoted for Koulibaly in the summer.
The 28-year-old is widely regarded to be one of the best centre backs in world football with pace and power being his key attributes. Koulibaly and Maguire would have the potential to form a formidable partnership and with funds available to United and Napoli apparently willing to sell, this is a realistic prospect that could catapult the club back up the league.
Despite only being 22-years-old Ruben Dias has played over 100 games for Benfica after making his breakthrough during the 2017/18 season, scoring 10 goals in the process. The Portuguese defender has attracted interest from several big clubs across Europe with his eye-catching displays.
Recent reports have claimed that Manchester City, and even Wolves are set to rival United’s interest in the centre-half (via the Express) with Benfica’s sporting director confirming his prized asset is available, “If he goes away I don’t know: we would like to keep him still and Ruben knows that here we would have a lot of attention. The club has needs to sell to make cash. We will see how the summer market will develop.”
The Portuguese giants have a reputation for selling their best, young players in the modern era and Dias will be no different. Whether Solskjaer sees him as the long-term solution remains to be seen but if he does there will almost certainly be a struggle with another footballing heavyweight for his signature.
United were heavily linked with Fiorentina’s Nikola Milenkovic in the summer and have been since José Mourinho’s reign. The Serbian can also play at right-back but is more comfortable in the middle of the defence.
The 22-year-old has been in Florence since 2017 and represented his country at the World Cup in Russia. The Serb would likely cost somewhere between £35-50million and is part of a squad that is currently languishing in 9th position in Serie A, some six points away from a Europa League spot, making his sale all the more likely. Milenkovic is yet to play Champions League football which may be of a concern to Solskjaer as he looks for a ready-made partner for Maguire, able to slot in seamlessly and sure up the back four. United may be more willing to take a chance on the young Serb due to their history with centre backs from the Balkan nation. Nemanja Vidic formed one half of one of the best central defensive partnerships the club has seen as his strength, bravery and power perfectly complimented Ferdinand’s pace, technique and ability with the ball.
If Milenkovic and Maguire could be half as good as the previous English, Serbian combination at Old Trafford United fans would sleep a lot easier at night.