Was Harry Maguire’s ideal partner the man who played an instrumental part in thwarting United at the weekend?
Whilst Victor Lindelöf endured another troublesome afternoon, Nathan Ake produced an impressive cool, calm and collected performance.
Against the Red Devils, the 24-year-old won all of his aerial duels, finished the match with a 90% pass accuracy, made 12 ball recoveries alongside 5 clearances and two interceptions.
The Dutchman made just one foul, and as toothless as United’s attack was, Ake put on a defensive clinic to ensure his side’s 1-0 goal lead was enough to win the three points.
It wasn’t just a one off performance by Ake. He has had an impressive start to the season and comes out on top against Lindelöf in the defensive statistics.
The former Chelsea man is averaging 1.2 tackles, 1.8 interceptions and 4.3 clearances per game compared to Lindelöf’s 0.9, 0.7 and 3.3.
With question marks growing about the Maguire and Lindelöf partnership, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may have to explore other potential defensive combinations to improve the United defence further.
Should United steer clear of another big money move?
After reluctantly selling Maguire to United, Leicester were knocked back in their summer approach for Ake, who was valued at £75m by Bournemouth according to Sky Sports.
United cannot afford to be splashing out that kind of money on yet another centre back, the funds would be better served sorting out areas that need urgently addressing like an injection of creativity and quality.
Solskjaer may already have centre backs at his disposal who have similar attributes to Ake.
Axel Tuanzebe could well be back from injury after the international break and will be patiently waiting for his chance to stake his claim once more.
United’s academy graduate has the pace to compliment and cover Maguire, but he also possesses a physical presence to bully strikers unlike Lindelöf, whose vulnerabilities have come to the fore on a number of occasions already this season.
A healthy and confident Eric Bailly would also be a real asset for Solskjaer, the problem is keeping the Ivory Coast international fit, whose time at Old Trafford has been blighted with injuries.
However, with Solskjaer recently opting to use three centre backs in a formation change, a potential back three of Bailly, Maguire and Tuanzebe has all the makings to be a powerful and dominant backline for the Norwegian to build from.
Marcos Rojo has benefitted from the absences of Tuanzebe and Bailly and Phil Jones has been restricted to cup appearances, but when Solskjaer has a clean bill of health to choose from, Rojo and Jones will probably have to settle for being 5th/6th choice.
Blueprint for what’s needed
Nathan Ake produced a dominant performance against United and showed that he has the ability to be playing for a top European side.
Fortunately the Red Devils already have centre backs in the similar aerial presence within the team’s ranks – they just aren’t currently available due to injury.
His performance was a reminder that United can do better than Lindelöf if the Swede cannot up his game. Ake was a blueprint for the type of dominant defender we need him to be.
If there were not other big priorities in midfield, on the wing and up front, then United should seriously consider another big money move for Ake, he’s that good.
Chalk him up as another top quality player who United should have considered buying years ago before his price went sky high.
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