With the January window all wrapped up, the next nature step is to start debating about our summer plans. I already can’t contain my excitement for the upcoming links with Neymar, Ronaldo, Bale, and Donnarumma. I mean, for the love of all that is holy, we were linked with 113 players over the course of January! Can you imagine what the summer will bring?
Not to be a Debbie Downer, but we’re going to keep it real here and set realistic expectations. If you want garbage rumors, go here.
In part one of this five part series, we’re covering very early predictions of what defenders are coming in and who will hit the road come July.
Our defense has been a mixed bag this Premier League season. As of February 3, we rank 6th in the league with goals conceded (29), 14th in clean sheets (5), 17th in clearances (407) and blocks (61), 19th in interceptions (229), and 15th in tackles (388). We are in this awkward place where we don’t know if we’re playing three or four in the back. With three in the back, are we going to stick with Spider and Williams as wing backs and risk an awkward combination of Slabhead, Ice Man, and Bailly/Axel/PHIL/Meat Pie? These are just a few questions we have moving into summer.
We currently have thirteen Red Devil defenders, albeit three are out on loan. Now let’s throw out some of the dead weight, shall we?
As I previously posted, our first casualty is Borthwick-Jackson. He’s unable to impress any team we loan him off to and I’m sure he’ll be looking to “revitalize” his career elsewhere. Simple as that.
Rojo’s fairy tale return to his boyhood club Estudiantes on loan for the remainder of the season marks the beginning of the end of his time with the Rojo Diablos. United had tried to move Rojo summer after summer ever since he arrived, but it never worked out. He was either injured or not good enough to find a spot in our defense. With the Slabhead/Ice Man partnership proving to work and Spider and Williams holding down the right and left, it looks like Rojo will be given the verde light to get on out.
My next predicted departure goes against my previous predictions, but Fosu-Mensah will be considered the weakest link (goodbye!) of the three United right-backs. As I mentioned before, he’s often injured and on a contract that expires at the end of June. There’s no sign of him taking Dalot’s spot as Spider’s backup, so let’s have Andrea Bocelli sing, “time to say goodbye.”
Now the most difficult one of this entire five part series. Sorry for any spelling errors you may come across, but I can’t hold back my tears.
I do not believe Chris Smalling is coming back. At 30 years old, Chris has found himself to be one of the top defenders in Italy, has admitted that he has enjoyed the move, and Roma wants him to stay. Although he was divisive amongst fans during matches, and God help you if you read what the Red Devils Reddit page subscribers would write about him during last season, Smalling is the consummate professional and was able to captain our back line when needed. But Slabhead has taken over that captain role for the entire squad, and neither him nor Ice Man are losing their starting XI spots.
Smalling won’t want to play second fiddle with Axel or Bailly next season after all of his time already at United, and after the success he’s had at Roma. Smalling provided us a lot of great memories and always fought for the badge, but I believe that United and Roma will come to an agreement around €22m.
Sit Down, You’re Going Nowhere
It is a forgone conclusion that Slabhead, Spider, and Brandon Williams will remain three of the first names on the first team sheet if their current form continues. Ice Man has formed a working partnership with Slabhead and I can already envision both donning super hero capes on some fan-made tees. That leaves us with some bench spots.
Bailly has somehow secured an extension with the club although he has not been featured in a single Premier League match this year.
Meat Pie Shaw will stay put, unless Leicester City suddenly lose roughly $96m at a craps table in Vegas and need some more of our cash in exchange for Ben Chilwell.
Axel is on the mend and has impressed when given the chance. He should remain the first choice CB option off the bench.
Dalot still has a fair amount of promise in him and if OGS continues to play with wing backs, then Dalot should see a future starting League Cup and FA Cup matches for United next season.
PHIL! I don’t know if it was his “screamer” against Tranmere or the fact that not too many clubs will want Phil, but he’s going nowhere. OGS appreciates his work ethic, as he recently stated that Phil never misses training and is working on getting better. Phil will never live down SAF’s comment that he could be United’s best player ever, but he’s the devastating romance we deserve right now.
You’re Going to Like the Way You Look in Red, I Guarantee It
We know Ed takes forever and a day to make transfer decisions thanks to his over-thinking tendencies. Sometimes, I wish he spent as little time negotiating as D&D spent on season 8 of GoT. That being said, you would have to imagine that at least one of the 21 defenders linked with us in January will be posing with OGS over a sheet of paper posing as a contract in the summer.
OGS is going to want a reinforced bench when it comes to defense. Unless Varane or VvD (pardon me throwing up in my mouth just now) become available, I can’t envision our defensive starters changing next season.
Fans of ESPN FC’s transfer rumors can stop reading now, because you’re all going to despise me for this: Koulibaly is not joining United in the summer. First, he’ll be 29 when the summer window opens, which doesn’t fit OGS’ youth movement. Second, we just paid the record transfer fee for a defender in Slabhead and we’re not doing it again. Third, our noisy neighbors will break the transfer fee for Koulibaly. And lastly, we don’t need him as much as we need other positions.
So who we got? Here are the five most likely targets:
Kumbulla is a CB at Hellas Verona in Serie A and he will be 20 on February 8 (happy early birthday). He’s an aerial threat at 6 feet tall and he prefers short passes. OGS would appreciate Kumbulla’s youth as it would fit in our new approach, along with his ability in the air. Transfermarkt values him at $11m.
Todibo is another 20 year old CB who went on loan to Schalke 04 from Barcelona just last month. At 6 ft. 2 in., we have another young towering defensive option here, but unlike Kumbulla, Todibo appears to be more pacey and enjoys a good tackle. By the looks of it, he looks like a Bailly-like CB option. However, Barca is keen on him staying put once he comes back from his loan and his place will be cemented if they unload Umtiti. Transfermarkt values Todibo at $11m.
Take a gander at his highlight video, but make sure to mute the background noise some call music, unless you’re looking to take tomorrow off of work due to profuse bleeding from the ears.
Dias, currently at Benefica, will be 23 at the start of the summer window. His price tag will raise eyebrows for a third CB option, but he is arguably the most gifted and experienced target presented. Dias is having another great year at Benefica, producing 2 goals and 1 assist in 19 league matches so far. Once again, we’re looking at height here as Dias is 6 ft. 1 in., but the key takeaway is that he is skilled at set pieces. When’s the last time United had a defender where we could be proud of their set piece skill? If OGS is set on having 3 in the back and 2 wing backs, then Dias is a no-brainer. He’s also Portuguese and I do believe we recently picked up someone from there… Transfermarkt values Dias at $41.8m.
We have another 20 year old, granted Salisu will be 21 and able to drink in the U.S. by the time the summer window opens. Salisu is a 6 ft. 3 in. CB currently in La Liga at Real Valladolid, where he produced 1 goal and 1 assist in 22 league matches. He may not be the best passer, but his strengths lie in blocks (remember, we’re currently 17th in that department). Transfermarkt values him at $11m.
Alright, so I cheated here being that Laird is on our U-23 squad. Our own young 18 year old, Laird has been featured in our Astana and AZ Alkmaar Europa matches this season, but not been on a first-team Premier League squad. In the U-23 season, Laird has primarily been featured at his preferred RB position and has 3 assists to his name in 10 matches. At roughly 5 ft. 10 in., Laird appears to have above average pace and can deliver the ball in the box. OGS has already spoken highly of Laird and stated that we should expect to see him on the first team squad next year.
What does everyone think? Let me know your thoughts on Twitter at @Conor_Marrsta.