The closing of the transfer window means two things for football fans: the lack of any yellow ties on Sky Sports News HQ and the start of the annual ‘we should have signed him’ debates.
However, it would be hard to disagree with the argument that Manchester United have done some pretty good business this time around. They have invested in youth, attacking promise and strengthened in key areas.
Morgan Schneiderlin looks to be the combative midfielder the Red Devils have craved ever since the departure of Roy Keane, and Matteo Darmian is making the right-back position his own. The issue of a ‘world class’ centre-back is one that just wont go away though.
Across town Manchester City have arguably the best defence in the league, as seen in the zero goals they have conceded. A potential centre-back pairing of Kompany and Otamendi is a formidable one. The Blues may have left United behind in this department, so should Van Gaal have gone all out for some defensive class?
Well, early season form would suggest not. United have conceded just twice in the Premier League so far this season. When you consider that the Reds have completed the ninth most defensive actions of all the sides in Europe’s top five leagues, conceding only two goals doesn’t seem too bad.
One stand out performer in Van Gaal’s back four is England international Chris Smalling. With an impressive 15 aerial duels won and an average of 12 successful defensive actions per game, Smalling is starting to look like the real deal.
Many fans just aren’t satisfied with this though. A ‘galactico’ is often required to keep the masses happy, maybe rightly so at a club the size of United. But sometimes big names don’t come with the big pay off. A couple of Argentina internationals have proved that in the past.
One name that managed to catch the eye amongst the slew of those reportedly linked with United this summer, was Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos. Perhaps we needn’t have got so excited though. Online football statisticians Squawka agree, giving Ramos an average performance score of 132 while awarding our own Chris Smalling a score of 151.
Now before this comment sparks riots amongst the online community, I am in no way suggesting that Smalling is the best defender in Europe or that he has eclipsed Sergio Ramos. What I am saying is he might not be far off, and one day that hyperbolic statement may well be a solid fact.
Let’s remember though, centre-backs are a species that come in twos. So far this season Smalling has been partnered by Daley Blind, a midfielder by trade. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, the time spent in his preferred position means there is composure at the back.
Blind, who has a pass completion rate of 91%, calms the defence and looks confident on the ball (minus a few battles with Swansea’s Bafetimbi Gomis) which is always nice in a defender.
I’m not arguing that a club like Manchester United shouldn’t have a recognised world class centre-back, but maybe slating the manager for not signing one is a mistake. So far Blind and Smalling are doing a job, and with Rojo and Jones set to return things don’t look too bad.
Moulding a world class player is always better than buying one anyway, isn’t it?