Manchester United’s signing of Raphael Varane could be transformational.
You only need to take a glance at Liverpool and Manchester City’s recent Premier League title triumphs to see how important a truly world-class centre-back can be to a team.
Virgil van Dijk was the last piece of Jurgen Klopp’s jigsaw at Anfield and once he arrived Liverpool reached consecutive Champions League finals, winning one, and won the league for the first time in thirty years. With the Dutchman out with injury for most of last season, the Merseyside outfit surrendered their crown without a fight.
Instead, City took the title, going from having a porous and shaky back-line the season before to the best in the country, thanks to new signing Ruben Dias.
With Varane’s imminent arrival at Old Trafford, supporters will be hoping the serial trophy winner will have a similar impact at the club and change Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side into serious challengers again. Perhaps even winners.
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The signing will also have a huge impact within the club. With Varane and Harry Maguire certain to be Solskjaer’s number one partnership, it leaves seven other centre-backs staring down the possibility of fewer minutes on the pitch this season.
Here’s where United’s other centre-backs stand ahead of the forthcoming season.
Lindelof was Solskjaer’s first choice last season to partner Maguire and the Swede looks set to be the biggest loser with Varane’s signing.
He made 45 appearances across all competitions last season, many of which were good but not enough to truly convince, but that is sure to reduce dramatically with Varane taking his spot in the middle of defence.
However, Varane’s injury record is not the best and there are bound to be times in which he is either unavailable or rested for bigger games. In those instances, Lindelof will likely be the one to take his place and he should still see a decent amount of playing time. Perhaps his ability to slot into defensive midfield could even be explored more as well.
Despite his flashes of brilliance, Bailly has never been able to nail down a place in the team either due to his inconsistent performances or his rotten luck on the injury front.
The Ivorian has been at the club for three years longer than Maguire, yet the captain has already made more appearances than him, showing just how often Bailly has been on the sidelines.
He made 21 appearances last season, just 12 in the league, and it’s hard to see that not decreasing as he moves further down the pecking order.
Having signed a new contract until 2024, with the option for a further year, in April, Bailly’s future at the club is secure but if he hopes to be a first-team regular then he may have to seek a move away – especially if United bring in yet another centre-back this summer.
Eric Bailly and Axel Tuanzebe of Manchester United
(Image: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)
There remains a lot of potential in Tuanzebe but now at 23 and with the years on his contract ticking down, he is running out of chances to prove it.
Injuries have not been kind to the academy graduate either, but when given an opportunity last season he failed to stake his claim to remain in the side.
Solskjaer has confirmed Tuanzebe will likely head out on loan this year and it appears to be the best move for him. With Newcastle boss Steve Bruce, who worked with him at Aston Villa, reportedly keen on signing him it could be the perfect chance to show what he can do when given a run of games.
After over a year on the sidelines with a knee injury, forgotten man Phil Jones is set to return to training on Monday as he takes a first step to getting back on the pitch.
With his injury record in recent years, high wages and the fact he’s still contracted until 2023, it’s unlikely that United will be able to sell Jones so instead they should make the best of the situation.
As he has become a figure of fun it’s easy to forget that there was once a really good player in there. If Jones can get back to full match fitness without any further setbacks he would not be a bad fifth choice option for Solskjaer in the slightest.
Youngster Mengi has risen through the youth ranks at rapid speed and has always impressed with his leadership and solid defending.
Alex Telles, Juan Mata, Anthony Elanga, Will Fish, Teden Mengi and Shola Shoretire in pre-season training
Wayne Rooney was left mightily impressed by the 19-year-old when he had him on loan at Derby County last season and has gone on record on how he’d like to work with him further.
With the state the Rams are in at the minute, however, United may want to look at sending Mengi to a team who are more likely to compete at the upper end of the Championship to further help his development, with first-team opportunities likely to be rare this season.
20-year-old Bernard enjoyed a year-long spell at Salford City last season, in which he was a key member of the side, making 30 appearances, and impressed with his versatility across the back-line.
That was only in League Two, however, so perhaps the next step for this year could be a loan move to a club higher up the pyramid to see if Bernard can continue to perform well at a tougher level.
And it appears as though that might well be his next move, with reports that he’s likely to go to Hull City for the season.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below! Will Fish
Fish made his debut on the last day of the season against Wolves after being promoted to first-team training by Solskjaer towards the end of the campaign.
At 18, there is no great rush for Fish to gain plenty of first-team experience so the ideal move for him could be to continue to work with the seniors in training and lead the Under-23s.
This could be reassessed in January where he could then be sent on loan if he is deemed ready, but in the meantime who better to learn off than Varane?
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