Spoilt For Choice But United Still Need to Sign a Specialist
Manchester United’s current right-back dilemma is a typical case of how you can have too much of a good thing. Blessed with at least five players who are all more than capable of lining up along side Ferdinand, Evans and Evra, Sir Alex currently lacks a stand out right back in the squad.
Since Gary Neville made the position his own, playing 400 games in that position, United have struggled to find a player capable of delivering the same levels of consistency both defensively and offensively, although Wes Brown certainly put in some of his finest performances for the club there.
This season, Sir Alex has chopped and changed his right-backs more often than the Coalition has changed its views on banks, pasty taxes and fighter jet orders. Inevitably, some of these changes have been forced on him through injury but despite this we are coming to the end of the season without any clear candidate for the right-back role next season.
*PL & CL Only
||Starts @ RB*
||Starts @ RB
Rafael has once again been enthusiastic in attack, notching up 4 assists this season at a rate of one every 3 and a half games but he is yet to realise the significance of his defensive responsibilities responsibilities he commonly forgets about. Badly caught out in games against Athletic Bilbao, Everton, and Ajax this season, his lapses are still all too apparent but at just 21 years of his age, he has ample time to address these issues. Unlike his brother, Fabio, Rafael will not have the opportunity to gain experience away from the spot light next season but hopefully his expected appearance in the Olympics this summer will help further his development.
Phil Jones is another player who has filled in at right back, in his debut season at Old Trafford, even though he was signed following impressive performances at CB and CDM at Ewood Park. Tough, tenacious and more tactically aware than his Brazilian team-mate, Jones does not currently possess the technique which is needed to play right back for the most celebrated team in English football. Undoubtedly a huge talent, the Englishman has looked uncomfortable in the final third over the last few months, despite some impressive early-season bombing runs (see video), and should be left to focus on developing his trade in the middle of the defence. Of course, Jones will be behind Rio, Nemanja and Jonny Evans based on recent performances (and his experience at RB this season will have acclimatised him to life at United) but he needs to be ready to fulfil his duties properly when the our current first choice CB’s have to succumb to the effects of ageing (or astronomical wage offers) in the next few seasons.
Phil Jones‘ Early Season Analysis
Another centre-back who has been used out of position this season, notably in games against Stoke, Benfica and Manchester City, is Chris Smalling. Aerially stronger than Phil Jones, who he accompanied at centre-half in the European U21 Championships last year, his selection has commonly been driven by Sir Alex’s attempts to increase the height of our team against taller opposition, although to attribute his selection solely down to that would do him a dis-service. Calm, controlled and ultimately aware of his responsibilities at right back, he is sometimes criticised for not being as cavalier as Rafael and Jones but his old head on young shoulders was one of the main reasons why Sir Alex felt confident enough to let both John O’Shea and Wes Brown leave last summer.
Certainly, having two players as versatile as the £10 million Smalling and £18 million Jones is a valuable asset to our squad and is quality which Sir Alex will continue to exploit over the coming years but if United are to regain their dominance on a European level, they are in need of a right back who is equally capable offensively and defensively. At the highest level of competition, having to reach a compromise each game is simply unacceptable.
It is possible that Rafael may mature over the next season and suddenly develop into the world-beater that we all want him to be but it is a gamble that we cannot afford to take. Instead, United need to hedge their bets elsewhere. Speculatively, some over-ambitious journalists have outlandishly linked us with a move for Barcelona’s Brazilian RB, Dani Alves, but that is a deal which will never come to fruition unlike a deal for England U21 International, Nathaniel Clyne.
Apparently already close to agreeing a deal after his impressive performances against us in the Carling Cup, the arrival of Crystal Palace’s highly rated defender would give the squad more balanced look and allow each of our defenders to focus on improving in their natural position. Far from the finished product, the Stockwell- born 21 year-old is an athletic individual who provides an excellent amount of defensive cover considering his offensive talents. Available on a free transfer (although United would have to pay compensation to the South London club), no Palace fan would begrudge him a move to a bigger club, having already played 123 games for the club and earned the 2010 Player of the Year award in his first three seasons. Considering the economics of the move and his potential, he may well be the specialist that, despite not being a world-beater himself, allows our defence to prosper once again.
You Might Also Like: Phil Jones Need Not be Beckanbuer, Baresi or O’Shea
Written by Chris who hosts the United Podcast, Can They Score? Listen & Subscribe via iTunes Here.