During Jose Mourinho’s recently-ended tenure at Manchester United, the Portuguese chopped and changed his centre-back partnerships in a desperate attempt to find defensive solidarity.
Mourinho is now gone and although caretaker boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has helped the Red Devils keep two consecutive clean sheets and concede just three goals during his first five games, there is still a feeling that the club need to invest in a top-class centre-back.
Speaking at the Star Sixes tournament in Glasgow recently, former Manchester United winger Keith Gillespie expressed his concerns around Man United’s current defensive options, telling Squawka: “It was widely reported that Jose Mourinho wanted defenders and wanted a centre-half.
“I do still think they are weak in that position, they seem to be chopping and changing all season. They don’t fill you with much confidence at times.
“I think, defensively, they need to strengthen and everybody knows that.”
At Squawka, we have taken a look at some of the potential options the Norwegian may look to explore, and whether they can fit into the Manchester United team.
Dream: Kalidou Koulibaly
Kalidou Koulibaly is one of the most talked about centre-backs in European football right now – and with good reason.
The Senegal international has won the ninth-most aerial duels (43) of any Serie A centre-back so far this season but, more importantly, has also completed the most short passes (1095) among his defensive peers in Italy.
This passing quality would allow Man United much greater control of possession, drawing teams out and allowing space for their insanely talented forwards such as Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku.
Moreover, Koulibaly is a defensive rock that can galvanise those around him and at 27-years-old, still has plenty in the tank, making him a dream target for the Red Devils – even if he would cost an eye-watering £90m.
Realistic: Toby Alderweireld
Toby Alderweireld made the fourth-most blocks (seven) and the fifth-most successful passes (403) of any player at the 2018 World Cup, helping Belgium reach third-place.
However, that barely scratches the surface with one of the most well-rounded centre-backs in world football at the moment and the 29-year-old has been doing it for years.
Alderweireld has been imperious across his 138 Spurs appearances to date, but with his contract due to expire next year, the gossip columns have been rife with speculation. And which name is most consistently linked with the former Ajax man? Manchester United, of course.
Toby Alderweireld in Tottenham's defence vs. Man United:
• Most passes completed (40)
• Most interceptions (4)
• Joint-most tackles won (3)
• Joint-most clearances (3)
How different it could have been… pic.twitter.com/XhRIPbxJwr
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 27, 2018
Spurs chief Daniel Levy may be notoriously hard to deal with, but Alderweireld’s contract situation would give Ed Woodward undoubted leverage in negotiations.
His experience in this division, combined with the aforementioned contract situation, creates a perfect blend that may well make Alderweireld the ideal centre-back for Manchester United, as well as the most realistic target for Solskjaer.
Wildcard: Nikola Milenković
Man United have been sending scouts to Italy to watch Nikola Milenković for months now, according to reports.
However, in the past few days, the speculation around a potential move for the Fiorentina man has gone up a notch and it is now being reported by Florence-based newspaper, La Nazione, that the Red Devils are willing to offer Brazilian midfielder Andreas Pereira as a bargaining chip in negotiations.
Milenković initially broke through at Fiorentina last season after arriving from Partizan Belgrade, but it is this season that the Serbia international has really made an impression, picking up two Man of the Match awards across his 18 appearances so far.
If he were to join Man United, he wouldn’t be the first Serbian defender to ply his trade at Old Trafford – Nemanja Vidic is one of the greatest defenders ever to grace the Theatre of Dreams pitch. Word in Serbia is that Milenković could actually be even better than Vidic, though.
“Milenković is better than Vidic with the ball at his feet, and he is much calmer on the field,” Serbian football journalist Dejan Stankovic told ESPN in August. “He is the most talented centre-back Serbia have had since Vidic, and they definitely have one thing in common – both are fearless.”
It would take a reported £45m fee to persuade Fiorentina to part company with Milenković, which is a large sum for a player who only has 34 appearances under his belt in one of Europe’s top five leagues.
However, at just 21-years-old, Milenković is here to stay and could be a long-term solution at the back for Man United.
Squawka Suggests: Éder Militão
Eder Militão, 20, may only have 21 games under his belt for a European club, but his stats for Porto this season are most impressive.
Militão only arrived from Sao Paulo in August 2018, but he has taken to life in Portugal like a duck to water, blocking the 10th-most shots (11) in the Primeira Liga, while his 697 passes this season is the third-most at the league leaders.
Porto’s number three is incredibly adept at reading the game, having made the third-most interceptions (30) at the club this season so far, while his form has also seen him pick up his first cap for Brazil, coming in a 5-0 win over El Salvador in September 2018.
Éder Militão (20) in the UEFA Champions League for FC Porto this season:
• 450 minutes
• 11 interceptions
• 9/12 tackles
• 4 wins
• 1 goal
• 1 clean sheet
Last night, he scored his first goal for O Dragões. pic.twitter.com/4Gy9QQ2xpX
— Scouted Football (@ScoutedFtbl) November 29, 2018
According to Marca, who say Real Madrid are also targeting the player, Porto are protected by a €42m (around £38m) release clause for Militão. This figure, however, increases to €50m beyond 31 January.
There will be many prying eyes keeping tabs on the young Brazilian, eager to see how his development progresses; Man United may do well to beat their rivals to the punch, with the lower release clause serving as added incentive.