Manchester United’s defense is not quite the omnishambles it has been in recent years, and José Mourinho has been able to coax some admirably solid performances out of it. But the key to real quality is in the ingredients, and individually, many of United’s defenders leave a lot to be desired. With significant activity expected in the summer, many of them may not survive the next round of player exits. Which of them have a future at a club?
Bailly may be the only center back that is virtually guaranteed to be still at United come next season. He has every tool in his locker, and he’s the only defender that Mourinho brought in himself. Whatever center back is brought in this summer will be to partner Bailly next year.
Phil Jones has had stretches of real quality this season, with the occasional bout of brain-dead defending. Phil Jones is also injured, yet again. That just about sums up Jones’ career at United, and at some point, you have to wonder whether or not he’s worth persevering with. Mourinho seems to like him though, so he may last through the summer.
“Is Marcos Rojo any good?” We’ve been asking ourselves the same question for almost three years now. At left-back, the answer is: not at all. At center back, however, Rojo may be the current best player in that position. Mourinho seemed willing to ship Rojo out in the summer, and may still do so this time around, but the Argentine has proven that he has the quality to challenge for a first team place. If nothing else, he should get transfer amnesty for providing the highlight of the season.
Chris Smalling will turn 28 years-old before the end of the year. The oafishness that is often associated with youth and inexperience has shown no signs of leaving his game, and we should accept that this is who he is. The brief improvement shown under van Gaal shows that he can get better, but the regression this year is further evidence that he’ll never be good enough. He’s awful in the air, his distribution is poor, and he’s the most likely of any of United’s defenders to give up a goal all on his own at any given time. It’s time for United to cut him loose.
Daley Blind is a useful squad player - he’s a handy option at four positions in defense and midfield, and he’s the best with the ball at his feet of any of United’s defenders. Unfortunately, he’s also weak and slow and the manager doesn’t seem to be particularly enthused by “jack of all trades” types. Expect Blind to be shipped out next transfer window.
Young is a favorite of Mourinho, and a capable fill-in at both full-back positions. He may even be the best left-back currently at the club. But he’s out of contract in the summer, and likely to be moving on to seek regular football.
We’ve covered Luke Shaw before. We know what he can be: the best left-back in the country, and a fixture in the United team for the next decade. We also know what he is: out of shape, and not trusted by the manager to even make the bench most weeks. Mourinho recently gave assurances about Shaw’s long-term future, but the Englishman is going to have to buck his ideas up, and quickly.
Is our Timbo even a defender? He played right-back and center-back under Louis van Gaal, but it’s possible that Mourinho sees his future in midfield. He’s barely gotten a kick this season, but with a new contract signed just months ago, Fosu-Mensah should at least be getting a shot at earning a real squad place in the summer.
Valencia has been United’s most reliable player this year, and should be a strong candidate for the club’s player of the season award. Right-back has been a problem position for several years now, with a rotating cast of characters, but Valencia is no longer a stop gap. There’s no reason why Valencia won’t continue to be one of the first names on the team sheet come next season.
Darmian has some of the makings of a Mourinho-type: he’s an unfussy defender, he does as instructed, and he’s a total shithouse. Mourinho has used him at both full-back positions this season, and in theory, he should be a useful player to have on the bench in case of injuries. The problem is that he’s an absolutely rubbish football player. Off in the summer to whoever will have him, hopefully.
Singled out for praise by Mourinho in pre-season, and handed his senior debut in January, Tuanzebe is well placed to have a future at United. But with no clear path to the first team, and center-back reinforcements coming in the summer, a loan seems a likely next step.
Couldn’t cut it at Wolves. Not a chance.
Yes, he’s still technically a registered player. We are as surprised as you are. He showed some attacking promise under van Gaal, but little defensive nous, and at 24 years-old, he’s no baby. Off in the summer.
So there we have it. Valencia and Bailly are certain to stay and likely to be starters. Jones, Rojo, and Shaw may survive another year, but no one would be surprised to see any of them leave. Fosu-Mensah’s future is probably in midfield, Tuanzebe is more likely to be out on loan than in the first team, and the rest are probably done for.