After an error prone two-legged affair against Barcelona in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, it is not difficult to see where the majority of Manchester United’s frailties lie.

Their defence has been the subject of a continuous and never-ending debate, with fans scarcely believing that the three of the back four that lined up against Barça last Tuesday – Ashley Young, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling – have been at the club since 2012.

Young, who had started as a winger under Sir Alex Ferguson, is now used a utility player either at right or left back, while Jones and Smalling’s famous partnership has come under scrutiny every time they have stepped onto the pitch.

Barcelona were the better team, but there were clear moments in both legs where Manchester United had chances to punish them and to also keep the score low if they did not panic and give away possession needlessly. The limited abilities of those three with the ball at their feet was evident yet again.

Manchester United's English defender Phil Jones leaves the pitch at the end of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg football match between Barcelona and Manchester United at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on April 16, 2019. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP) (Photo credit should read LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images)

Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot are players that have a bright future at the club and should not be criticised too harshly given their individual performances have been pleasing on the eye for the best part of this season. The same goes for Victor Lindelöf, who has turned into the Red Devils’ best defender and has a long future ahead of him in central defence.

When delving deep into the squad, there also players like Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian, Antonio Valencia and Eric Bailly, who have barely featured this season either through injury or for not being up to the required standard.

The Argentina international might have had his contract renewed only last year, but given the limited playing time he actually offers the club – as well as his brashness in the challenge – he is considered more of a liability than anything else.

Bailly was disappointing in Mourinho’s third season and his form has failed to pick up even with the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjær. The Norwegian has lifted the spirits of most players in the camp, but Bailly’s battles are ongoing and he appears not to have learnt that he cannot be so reckless when poised in a one-on-one situation.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Eric Bailly of Manchester United speaks with Marcelino Garcia Toral, Manager of Valencia after the Group H match of the UEFA Champions League between Manchester United and Valencia at Old Trafford on October 2, 2018 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

And then there is the Italian right back, Darmian. A player who has underperformed and underwhelmed with every opportunity he has had and will be moved on at the end of the season on a free transfer – just as Valencia will.

If the board are to back Solskjær and allocate him the funds needed to improve this squad, then the main area to focus on simply has to be the defence. Smalling can be considered as a third or fourth choice centre back, but both Jones and Young should have been moved on – rather than extending their contracts until 2023 and 2020 respectively.

With Lindelöf, 24, Manchester United have a defender that has not yet reached his prime and should partner him with an experienced player, such as Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld, who will be available for £25 million this summer.

While it is obvious that the Belgium international will not last four, five years at the Red Devils, for the two, maybe three, seasons they can get from him, will bolster United’s defence considerably and give them a secureness that they have been longing for.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - NOVEMBER 15: Toby Alderweireld of Belgium in action during the UEFA Nations League A group two match between Belgium and Iceland at King Baudouin Stadium on November 15, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

It will take two transfer windows for the Norwegian to build the team he thinks can challenge the European elite and get back to the top of English football, but ruthless decisions have to made.

The club have been locked into a sense of sentimentality and rewarded big contracts to players who have not been deserving of them – if Man United are serious about returning to the top, this has to change.

In Shaw, Dalot, Lindelöf and even Axel Tuanzebe, the future can shine bright for United’s defence, of course with David de Gea behind them should he choose to remain at the club. At this moment in time, however, they need to cut their loose ties and rebuild for the seasons to come.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

Join the discussion