Whilst Chris Smalling continues to excel in Italy, Manchester United’s defence looks worryingly non-existent without Harry Maguire marshalling it.
The partnership of Victor Lindelöf and Phil Jones proved to be an absolute disaster against Manchester City, the pair were sloppy in possession, switched off at crucial moments and failed to gain a stranglehold on a City forward line that started without a natural striker.
The worry for United is with Maguire suffering a torn hip muscle, Solskjaer may have no other choice but to retain Lindelöf and Jones for the coming games.
With Axel Tuanzebe and Eric Bailly working their way back from injuries and Marcos Rojo’s time at the club possibly coming to an end, United’s depleted backline looks very vulnerable.
Elsewhere in Italy, Smalling continues to impress for Roma as he chases Champions League qualification with the club.
Is there a way back for Smalling?
The Giallorossi are eager to get Smalling signed on a permanent deal but United cannot afford to act hastily.
It wouldn’t be a surprise that come the start of next season that both Rojo and Jones have been moved on, Solskjaer needs to be ruthless and move on the deadwood.
Tuanzebe will be focusing on staying fit and getting a run of games before he targets dislodging Lindelöf and becoming Maguire’s first choice partner.
Eric Bailly has struggled for form and fitness, when he is healthy and on song he can be the complete defender who has no weakness.
Unfortunately for United fans, the Ivory Coast internationals time at Old Trafford has been plagued with injuries and setbacks.
As for Lindelöf, the Iceman has benefitted from injuries to the likes of Tuanzebe and Bailly. His mediocre form and off days have become too common, but Solskjaer doesn’t currently possess the quality of personnel to drop him.
Bailly and Tuanzebe deserve a number of chances to prove themselves especially after the number of cat lives Jones has been given. But Smalling should not be ruled out of the mix.
How does Smalling currently compare?
Lindelöf’s vulnerabilities against physical players and ability to sniff out danger is an area of concern in United’s backline.
Solskjaer would have hoped that the defensive spine of Maguire, Lindelöf and David de Gea would be the base to build a trophy winning side from.
The Swede can be tidy in possession and have stand out matches, but you just feel like an error isn’t too far away.
The world’s most expensive defender hasn’t set the world alight but he hasn’t had the reassuring presence of former Red Jonny Evans next to him.
It would seem foolish to write off a Smalling/Maguire partnership at United without it being properly trialled.
Maguire loves to get on the ball and drive forward whereas Smalling is more old school and takes a more no-nonsense approach to defending, and that is exactly what this current United side is missing.
It could be a combination that perfectly compliments each others games.
In a comparison between Lindelöf, Smalling and Maguire at this stage of the season, it is the former Fulham who dominates the defensive statistics.
Lindelöf currently averages 0.7 tackles, 0.8 interceptions, 3.6 clearances and 0.5 blocks per game.
The former Leicester City man is producing 1 tackle, 1.6 interceptions, 4 clearances and 0.5 blocks per game.
The man who started his professional career with Maidstone United comes out on top with 1.1 tackle, 2 interceptions, 4.2 clearances and 1 block per match.
Smalling may see his long-term future away from Manchester, but if he remained patient and United’s leaky defence continues to cause Solskjaer more headaches, he could find himself back in the first team fold.
There is no need to rush into a sale now. United should wait to the summer and re-assess the situation from there.
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