MANCHESTER UNITED face a Champions League opener against Basel without two of the most important players in their brilliant start to the Premier League season.
If this wasn[‘t bad enough, it is even more of a cause for concern considering they both play in the exact same area of the pitch.
Phil Jones was given a two-match ban by UEFA for abusing an official during last season’s Europa League final victory over Ajax.
The team performance and the result was a positive, ensuring progress through to the continent’s top competition this term; however, the Englishman will not be available for the beginning of the new journey as he serves out the second game of his suspension.
He will be joined in watching on from the sidelines by Eric Bailly, who is also suspended for the clash with the Swiss champions.
The powerful Ivorian has developed into a genuine leader of the back line with his aggressive displays over the last year or so, and his presence will be missed against Basel.
Together, he and Jones form one of the most effective central defensive duets in the Premier League.
However, both will not be present when Manchester United take to the pitch next Tuesday.
This is a genuine cause for concern, but our friends at Football Whispers explain that there are several ways Jose Mourinho can overcome his team’s defensive crisis.
The most obvious option would be to bring in Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof.
The former is a highly experienced centre-back who, at 27 years of age, has played almost 250 games for Manchester United across all competitions.
He is also an established England international with 31 caps for his country.
Smalling would provide the sort of know-how few other players in Mourinho’s squad possess, which is something that could come in handy for a Champions League opener.
Lindelof, at the age of 23, is one of the younger players in Manchester United’s defensive options, but he is a proven customer at the highest level of the European club game.
The Swede made over 70 appearances for Portuguese giants Benfica prior to his summer move to Old Trafford, and played an important part in his old club’s progression to the Champions League second round last season.
Individually, both Smalling and Lindelof are the clear candidates to replace Bailly and Jones in the United back line. However, Mourinho may not wish to go with a relatively untested central defensive duo for such a big game.
If the ‘Special One’ does indeed decide this is too big a risk, he may decide to change formation. He is no strange to tactical adjustments, and he experimented with a different defence in pre-season.
Mourinho considered a back three during the summer, and many predicted he would line his side up this way going into the Premier League campaign. While this has not been evident so far, next Tuesday’s match may be the perfect moment to unveil a new shape.
Without his ideal centre-back pairing, he could go for a back three. This would guarantee that, at the very least, United have numbers at the back and a good central presence, making them difficult to break down and mitigating any counter-attacking threat Basel may pose.
Versatile Italian Matteo Darmian made his name as a flying wing-back with Torino. His form in Turin attracted Manchester United’s attention and earned him a move to the club, but he started life as a centre-back.
While decent on the ball and with a preference for the space afforded him out wide, the full-back can also play centrally. Indeed, while current Chelsea boss Antonio Conte was manager of the Italy national team he used Darmian at centre-back on the right of a back three.
Mourinho may make use of the Italian in a similar position against Basel should he wish to go with a three-man defensive line. Another option he could look to with this in mind would be Daley Blind.
The Dutchman has finally found some consistency of position this season, appearing at left-back in United’s start to the Premier League campaign. However, he has been used elsewhere in the past, including defensive midfield and centre-back.
With his composed left foot, Blind would be a good passer from which United could build attacks from the back. This is something that could be useful against an opponent likely to visit Old Trafford with a defensive mindset.
Were he not injured, Marcos Rojo would undoubtedly be called upon regardless of whether a back four or back three was chosen.
However, even without the Argentine alternatives exist in the form of the experienced Michael Carrick and the youthful Axel Tuanzebe.
The former would bring calmness and technical ability to the back line, while the latter would bring pace, strength, an excellent work ethic and attentive man-marking.
Manchester United may be without their best centre-backs for their Champions League opener, but there are plenty of individual and tactical solutions to the defensive crisis.
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MANCHESTER faces a fight this season to get its hands on the Champions League trophy.
Current champions Real Madrid are just 4/1 (add to your betslip) to land the prize for a historic third time – while Neymar’s PSG are 11/2 (add to your betslip) with Sun Bets.
United (10/1 – add to your betslip) and City (10/1 – add to your betslip) are the Premier League’s best chances, according to the bookies.
Chelsea (16/1 – add to your betslip) are next up – with Liverpool (20/1 – add to your betslip) following behind.
Last but not least, are Spurs (40/1 – add to your betslip) who face a tough task to land the European Cup if the odds are to be believed.
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