Manchester United’s perfect run in the English Premier League ended this Saturday when the team settled for a 2-2 draw against Stoke City. It was not the best performance from United, but it was a good point either way. We all know playing at Britannia Stadium is always tough. Some of the best teams in the league drop points there, and while drawing is never a good result, it’s always better to draw than to lose. Especially considering how the game happened.
However, there is one thing that must change from Saturday’s game. If United want to make a deep title run, then they need an URGENT upgrade at centre-back. “Let’s-go-sign-someone-in-January” kind of urgent. It is imperative.
And no, this is not an overreaction to a 2-2 draw. The defence has been solid overall. In fact, the two goals from Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting were the first ones United conceded this season. But there is a big difference between being “solid” and “good”. And if United are pointing towards the latter, then an upgrade becomes mandatory.
We know Eric Bailly is a top quality defender. He must be one of the best young centre-backs in the Premier League, and possibly in all of Europe. But his partner is the one with the problem. Phil Jones looked quite bad against Stoke, and it is becoming increasingly noticeable that he will never be the world-class defender many expected him to be.
The in-house options are not very promising, either. Victor Lindelöf has not impressed Jose Mourinho, and he hasn’t started in the Premier League this season. Chris Smalling is on a similar level to Jones, so using him as a replacement does not seem to be the solution. Daley Blind IS NOT A CENTRE-BACK, so he is out of the equation. And Marcos Rojo won’t return until December, so it doesn’t make sense to consider him.
Having Jones, Smalling, Lindelöf, Bailly and Blind speaks volumes of the team’s depth on defence. But can they mount a title challenge with Bailly and Jones as the starting centre-back pair? If we take a look at some of the other teams in the league, all of them have better options in the position. And things would become even more complicated if we compare United’s defensive to the likes of Real Madrid’s, Barcelona’s, PSG’s or Bayern Munich’s.
Bailly is good enough to be the second-best defender on a contending team. But if he’s the best centre-back on the squad, then United could definitively do better. Perhaps someone like Mats Hummels or Raphaël Varane would represent a substantial upgrade over the current in-house options.
This isn’t something personal against Jones. He is a quality player, and is certainly good enough to play for United’s senior team and the England National Team. But he is not a world-class defender, and that’s what United needs. The game against Stoke was the perfect proof of how United needs an upgrade.
Considering the transfer window already closed, United will have to deal with what they have until January. But the team needs to start thinking about the future. And honestly, they could use an upgrade. Especially if Jose Mourinho wants to contend for the Premier League title or make a deep run in the UEFA Champions League.
After all, that’s the team’s ultimate goal.