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How Should Manchester United Solve Its Left-Back Problem?

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In this week’s roundtable, our writers discuss who should start for United in this problem position.

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Left-back has been a problem position for Manchester United this season. Our writers take turns making their cases for who should be first choice.

Ashley Young

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Matteo Darmian has to be one of the worst footballers to ever play for United, Marcos Rojo played left-back in the EFL Cup final like he had bet his life savings on Southampton scoring at least 5, and Daley Blind moves with all the pace of a tectonic plate shift. Luke Shaw, as frequent critic Mourinho admitted recently, has all the tools to be United’s first-choice left-back for the next decade. But having the tools and being prepared to use them are two different things. Shaw, for all his promise, has spent the last few months behind Darmian, Rojo, and Blind in the pecking order (good on him for being able to keep out Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, though). Mourinho has his faults, but it’s hard to believe that he would willingly subject the team to having to carry that rotating cast of jokers if there was a better alternative. Shaw has clearly not been up to much in training.

Shaw’s promising (there’s that word again) return against Bournemouth may be a sign of better things to come, but this is no time to be re-acclimatizing a young player lacking in match sharpness and with a questionable attitude. Instead, Mourinho should turn to one of the few senior players in the squad who can be reasonably expected to come in and do a job: Ashley Young. Young had been written off by many as an average winger with a penchant for shithouse diving, but he’s quietly become one of the more reliable utility players in the squad. Arguably, his run of games at left-back following Shaw’s injury last year was his most consistently impressive stretch as a United player.

Each time Young has played this season, Mourinho has a made it a point to single him out for his professionalism and application. We know that he has the pace to keep up with opposing wide attackers, and he’s obviously learned the role well enough to earn the trust of two successive club managers. With all the other options having proven themselves unsuitable, Young - a past-his-prime converted right winger - may be the best left-back United have. - Brent Maximin

Luke Shaw

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A player who has always carried himself with the physique of someone who isn't interested in being a Manchester United player, Shaw needs the Wayne Rooney treatment. Give him games, show him for the risible disgrace he is, and make it easy to bin him in the summer. That will make the decision easy to defend, and will also be a signal to Ed Woodward that the policy of buying clowns - like Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian - in defence will no longer be tolerated. On the other hand, Shaw might take the boost in confidence as a reason to shift some timber and play with the vim he did when at Southampton. But, let's be realistic, this is a player who has had constant rumours about his lack of professionalism, diet and performance in training, and had about six good games before breaking his leg. We'll need a new, talented adult in the position next season. - Alexander Netherton

Matteo Darmian

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If there's one lesson to be learned from the different way that Jose Mourinho has treated Marouane Fellaini, regular squad member and occasional starter, as set against the public humiliations and exiles of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw, it's that Manchester United's manager doesn't care how good a player is. Nor does he care, really, if that player plays particularly well once they're on the pitch. No, all Mourinho cares about is that a player does what he's told, even if only to the best of his inability.

Which brings us Matteo Darmian: bought as a right-back for Louis van Gaal, but most often picked by Mourinho at left-back. At first glance Darmian is a strange choice for the position. Unlike Shaw, his preference for his right side means he's not an option on the overlap. He can't pass and cross like Blind, or occasionally beat his man like Ashley Young. He can't even offer what Marcos Rojo offers, and as soon as we work out what that is, we'll let you know. But what he does, we assume, is follow instructions. And those instructions, we assume, go something like: Just hang around at the back there, it'll be fine. Tony will do the overlapping on the other side. Don't touch anything important, for God's sake. It'll all be over soon. - Andi Thomas

Marcos Rojo

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It seems quite an obvious thing to say, but to like a football team, it helps to actually like the team. And suffice to say, the most likeable doesn't correlate with the best. Think through some of the more recent inductees to United's Cult Hero Hall of Fame, among them John O'Shea, Park Ji-sung and Rafael da Silva. Good players, yes; truly great players, certainly not: in many ways, they were all at least slightly rubbish. But it is precisely for this reason that we like these players so much; it is the fact they achieve against the odds on what appears to be little more than sheer willpower. Perhaps, subconsciously, they still give us some hope of one day donning the red shirt.

And so it's on these grounds that I'm appealing for Marcos Rojo to retain his spot at left-back for United. Not on the grounds that he's the best -- on raw ability, he's probably little more than a good rotation option -- but on the grounds that he bears all the hallmarks of a cult hero-to-be. Raw, rash, and faintly ridiculous, he's the kind of player whose mention will conjure a nostalgic smirk in a few decades' time. And what good is football, if not for nostalgia? - Jack Sargeant