It has been nearly two years since Jose joined United and pledged to bring the club back to the pinnacle of European football in this modern era, after the club’s struggle in form due to the failure of the managers post Sir Alex’s retirement. In the current 2017/18 campaign, Mourinho’s men stand second in the Premier League, in the FA Cup quarters and Champions League last 16. During the course of the league campaign, United dropped crucial points due to a shaky and inconsistent defence. It is fair to say that mistakes and quality in defence has led to the team losing vital and easy points, which could have either kept the club on the top, at the start of the season or reduce the gap between Manchester City by a considerable and competitive amount. It is rather surprising that United have one of the best defensive records in the league this season, in spite of having such an inconsistent backline.
During the Fergie-Era, United had one of the best centre-back pairs in Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Two tall, strong, agile, risk taking and intelligent brutes, who would break blood and sweat to protect the United goal. Both of them had the perfect chemistry and were telepathic, knowing what the other was thinking about, these qualities made them an attacker’s nightmare and personified Sir Alex’s famous quote, “Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles.” Currently, United have Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof as centre backs. During the course of the season, Jose hasn’t had a proper consistent centre back pair. Mainly because of the injuries to them. Jones, at the start of the season was of the best in the league, until he got injured once again following the new year, Rojo at the start of the season and many countless after that. The club’s best defender Bailly, got injured mid-season with Ivory Coast and has just started to play, by making few cameo appearances from the bench, but hasn’t started a game post injury, because, he hasn’t attained full fitness. That left the team with only Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof fit. It is obvious to say that this makeshift partnership, hasn’t yielded any fruit yet, as Victor is still adjusting to the Premier League and has just started finding his groove. On the other hand, Smalling has been rather the problem child, with many clumsy mistakes leading to goals and unwanted fouls, hence jeopardizing the game-plan to a more cautious and defensive approach, which clearly isn’t required.
As mentioned before, Bailly is the club’s best centre back and is destined to become a club great. He is the perfect example of a modern-day defender and is a are breed due to his astonishing stats and qualities. Tall, strong, agile, intelligent and a high percentage of risking taking ability. Mourinho wants to bank on the situation and strengthen his squad by providing Bailly with a perfect long-term partner in order to regain titles. United lack experience in defence along with the increasing amount of liabilities and injury prone players in the squad. United need to find their next Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. They already have once piece of the puzzle in Bailly. Recent reports suggest that, United are targeting La Liga and France duo Rafael Varane and Samuel Umtiti. Both these players would definitely strengthen the current United squad with their own respective traits. Let’s analyse which one would the perfect signing.
United have been linked with the Frenchmen for quite some time and it is no doubt that Mourinho is a staunch admirer of the player, having signed him himself, from Lens during his time at Real Madrid and also being a crucial factor in making him the player that he is today. At 24 years of age and standing at 6”2 Varane is one of the best centre backs in Europe and has won all major honours at such a young age, having won 3 Champions Leagues, 2 La Ligas, 1 Copa Del Rey and 3 Club World Cups with Madrid. He is an important player for the club and his manager, fellow countryman Zidane, who highly rates him for his ability. Varane is a calm, strong and intelligent player, who is good in the air, physically strong and tall. He is like a backbone and times his tackles really well. He generally likes to clear the ball and likes to come in the way of shots and intercepts passes. He has 14 successful tackles in the La Liga this season and has won 27 of his aerial duals this season, his strengths lie in his interceptions and clearances, them being 26 and 83 respectively this season. His most important trait is that he likes to hold on to his ground, which means that he likes to operate in the penalty area and act as a backbone. He is not known to make forward runs in spite of having decent pace. He is also not afraid to take risks during intense situations, by crunching well timed tackles, something United are not perfect at and definitely require; a partner for Bailly who isn’t afraid of taking risks. Real value him at 60 million and in this inflated market it is a fantastic price for a young world-class defender. However, it will be really difficult for United to get him as he is too valuable for Zidane and any offer we make for him would result in Madrid asking for De Gea in exchange, given their long-term affection for the United goalkeeper. United could land him by matching the asking price, if they don’t want to involve De Gea and topping that would be a lucrative contract and pay raise.
United have been heavily linked with the Barcelona centre back in the recent weeks. The 24-year-old Frenchman, who also stands 6”2, same as Varane, would be the better signing for United on paper. His stats this season are off the charts, having made 24 successful tackles, 32 aerial duels won, which are better than Varane, stats show that the difference is 68:58% this season. His trophy cabinet isn’t as glorious as Varane’s as he has won only 1 La Liga, 1 Copa Del Rey and 1 Club World Cup. His pace, dribbling and agility are his most important traits as he loves to make forward runs and create chances and counter attacks. He has made 901 forward passes this season. He is dynamic in nature, which means he likes to take on players, using his physical powers to the fullest. He is highly intelligent and times his tackles very well. He is left footed, which would compliment working with Bailly more and is the much-needed flat track bully and risk taker that United lack. Signing him won’t be much of a hassle as he has a 54 million release clause and is willing to move away. Barcelona don’t want any player in return. Given that Barcelona have signed Yerry Mina, he would prove to be a competitor for Umtiti, should he stay.
Both the players are great and would definitely bolster the United squad. Given Mourinho’s defensive approach, Varane would be the better choice as he is more calm and positional. But his drawback is his availability and the risk of losing De Gea. Umtiti, on the other hand, would be the preferred option, as United are in need of a dynamic player and a defender who is willing to take risks. Umtiti would also improve United’s attacking build-up play due to his forward runs, passing and dribbling ability, but that could also be his drawback. United have been vulnerable in positioning and have given the opposition many goals due to gaps in the back third and if Umtiti is out of position this would lead to the defence being exposed. He would be easier to get as he has a straight-up release clause at a reasonable price.
To conclude, Umtiti would be the ideal partner for Bailly, mainly due to his dynamic and attacking approach.