Manchester United have a few big decisions to make at centre-back this summer.
Signing a new defender should be a priority for United. What the club can’t do is expect Harry Maguire to play in nearly every single game.
Maguire ran out of injury luck at the end of the season, missing the last four Premier League games and then crucially the Europa League final.
Maguire is still dealing with his ankle problem and does not expect it to go away quickly.
The United captain was quoted by the Blackpool Telegraph: “I’m sure it will niggle me for a few weeks and months. From speaking to players and physios, I’m sure it will be niggling. But as long as it’s stable and the pain is bearable then I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
To hear Maguire will be playing through pain should make everybody connected with United feel uneasy. He cost the club £80 million and United have to look after him.
Liverpool suffered badly last season when Virgil van Dijk was injured. United have to ask whether the club is prepared for the eventuality of Maguire missing one month of action in 2021/22, let alone several?
What is United’s depth?
Behind Maguire, United have Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof and Axel Tuanzebe.
Bailly is set to feature for Ivory Coast at the AFCON mid-season and miss a month of action. His poor injury record also leaves concern over whether United can actually rely on him.
There are also suggestions Axel Tuanzebe will be allowed out on loan this season.
This could be good for Tuanzebe’s development, but United cannot let him leave without ensuring sufficient cover is available.
Tuanzebe leaving on loan will mean United have just Maguire, Lindelof, and Bailly, as it stands.
Maguire is nursing a fitness issue and as noted, Bailly will miss time with the AFCON. United have to prepare for the worst.
Teden Mengi likely to head out on loan too. Phil Jones could end up staying as emergency cover, but this is not a scenario United fans want to contemplate at this point.
Prepare for the worst, get the best
By preparing for the worst, United will be able to negotiate the challenges of a long season ahead.
Four centre-backs seems like enough, it was last season. But sending Axel Tuanzebe out on loan means United are short.
His loan exit could be a sign that a new centre-back is coming in, as United fans want. The MEN report United have had a bid turned down for Raphael Varane. It’s a step in the right direction and shows some intent.
Bear in mind all of the other factors, fitness issues, AFCON, and its clear United should not be too complacent. This might mean United get a little selfish and deny Tuanzebe a loan, regardless of whether a new signing comes in. United need to be really thorough in looking ahead.
United have to ask, ‘If Maguire misses two months in January and February due to injury, do we have enough cover?’. Bailly will be absent then, and it will leave just Lindelof, plus one other, Tuanzebe or a new signing. It would really be better to have both.
The worst thing United could do is get too reliant on Harry Maguire, and go into the season under-manned at a key position, and push players into roles where they increase risk of injuries.
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