Diogo Dalot’s Manchester United career is yet to truly get going as the injury he arrived at the club with has continued to plague him.
For too long, United’s defence has relied on aging journeyman players; the likes of Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Chris Smalling have been mainstays because they work hard and stay largely free from injuries.
But a club with United’s lofty ambitions needs more than that; dynamic, attacking full-backs and sturdier centre halves are the order of the day but they have been missing for far too long.
A look into the future
Dalot has reportedly been passed fit to face Crystal Palace this afternoon and that could offer United fans an exciting glimpse of their future defence.
That’s Jose Mourinho resists the temptation to reach for the experience of Valencia or Young – and he should given that speed will be needed out at right back to keep the pacy Wilfried Zaha under wraps.
Dalot, along with Luke Shaw on the other flank and the vastly-improved Victor Lindelof at centre back should form the basis of a younger, more dynamic and technical backline which can offer greater protection for David de Gea and more attacking thrust going forward.
Chris Smalling will expect to round off that defence and reports this week that he has opened talks over the extension of his contract will no doubt deflate United fans.
Last January, bitter rivals Liverpool brought in Virgil van Dijk, who has had a transformative effect on their defence; if United spend this January sealing a new deal for Smalling, it would sadly underline the differences in ambition at the two clubs.
United need a van Dijk of their own to knit a promising defence together and turn it into a formidable one; but by beginning to shed the experienced, middling players who have played at the back for years, the club is finally moving towards a more promising defensive era.