Gary Neville has dug into Manchester United’s defensive issues and believes they will be again in the market for a new central defender this summer.
United again suffered problems at the back in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion with Victor Lindelof particularly at fault for the Baggies’ goal as striker Mbaye Diagne outmuscled him to head past David De Gea after just 80 seconds of the match.
It’s not the first time that Lindelof’s lack of physical presence has shown up this season, a problem Neville believes needs addressing.
“I don’t think the discussions we’re having now are anything new,” he said on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football. “We said at the start of the season that Manchester United needed a centre-back, and that there were question marks over the goalkeeper.
“If you look at the goal against West Brom, it’s not going to take those feelings away. They were taken back into the box with Diagne fighting with Lindelof, and West Brom keep the ball alive. Sam Allardyce will have worked on this all week.
“He’d have worked on positions in wide areas, and both Maguire and Lindelof don’t shift up. They don’t move their feet three, four, five yards. They never do and they have to do it. If they don’t start doing it, they’re never going to get to a point where they’re going to win the league.
“Going back 10 years it was the same – you’ve got to be aggressive in getting out your box. What happens is Lindelof gets pinned. He got pinned by a player who’s stronger than him, who outmuscles him and who bullies him. Once you’re in that position, it’s a nightmare.”
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Premier League title winners have often been characterised by strong central defensive partnerships allied with a reliable goalkeeper behind them.
Neville played alongside the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at United during his playing career and knows the benefits of a strong partnership in that area of the pitch.
“The key thing is that only one of the last 20 Premier League champions have conceded at least one goal per game,” he added. “That tells you about these three of De Gea, Lindelof and Maguire. To win titles, that triangle of goalkeeper and two centre-backs need to be as solid as a rock.
“They need to be dominant and these three aren’t dominant. The goalkeeper’s not dominant at the moment, even though I thought he did OK on Sunday, and the two centre-backs are not dominant. They concede too many goals and if you concede one or more goals per game, you’re not going to win a Premier League. Manchester United have to look at that.
“They’re not going to turf Maguire out. They’ve invested £80m, he’s the cornerstone of the defence and the one they will build the defence around. So they need to find a partner for him. It’s got to be someone of the physicality and profile of Eric Bailly. Someone who is quick, good in the air, strong and can cover Maguire one-on-one. But also someone who’s going to get them up the pitch to allow them to play a bit higher.
“Lindelof’s problem is Maguire and Maguire’s problem is Lindelof. I think if you put Lindelof alongside Van Dijk at Liverpool, I think he’s a really good player. He understands the game, he reads the game, he’s a good defender. If he was alongside a Ferdinand or a Van Dijk, I think he’d make a great pair. The problem is he alongside somebody who’s not the most mobile in Harry Maguire.
“The problem Lindelof has got is they’ve invested £80m on Maguire so they’re going to have to put someone alongside him. They both seem to drop back a little bit and you need someone who can get them up the pitch.”
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