Following the 3-1 victory at Old Trafford Paul Scholes became the latest United legend – Gary Neville had a pop last week – to pinpoint Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s rearguard as their weak spot.
Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof were the men in the middle but United looked shaky against the misfiring Magpies and Scholes said: ‘They are missing a real dominant centre-back. You look back at the history of the teams that win leagues they have real leaders in the back four.
Manchester United beat Newcastle 3-1 on Sunday but were sloppy and open at the back
Legendary former midfielder Scholes was speaking after United’s 3-1 win against Newcastle
‘Maguire could be but he needs someone next to him that can dominate. I don’t think we are far off, the attacking play, the midfield play, Paul Pogba is looking better, Fred and (Scott) McTominay.
‘We have a young (Mason) Greenwood coming of age, the more games he plays the more star quality he will bring, this lad could be a real superstar. ‘There’s goals in the team and I just think a real dominant centre half with authority could take United to that next level.’
Lindelof was outmuscled by Mbaye Diagne for West Brom’s goal in the previous Premier League game and Neville said at the time: ‘Lindelof’s problem is Maguire, Maguire’s problem is Lindelof.
‘I think he (Lindelof) is a really good player by the way, he understands the game, he reads the game, I think he is a good defender. I think if he was alongside a (Rio) Ferdinand or Van Dijk, I think he would make a great pair.
Lindelof was criticised in particular for his display as Manchester United drew at West Brom
The Swede was outmuscled as Mbaye Diagne headed home the opener at the Hawthorns
‘The problem is he is alongside somebody who isn’t the most mobile in Harry Maguire, and I think that is the problem that Lindelof has got. That actually they have invested £80m in Maguire, so they are going to have to put somebody beside him.
‘I don’t think he does a good job alongside Maguire because they both just drop back a little bit and United need someone to get up the pitch. They have got to get up the pitch, they have got to be more aggressive.
‘They have got to have the nerve to make the stomach churn a little bit, that there is a bit too much space in behind them than there ordinarily would be and that is what the best teams have.’
Maguire shows his frustration during the 1-1 draw against West Brom earlier this month
Gary Neville questioned the credentials of Lindelof and Maguire as a centre back partnership
Neville went on to add that United should in fact look to sign someone with a similar profile to Eric Bailly, an unused substitute at the Hawthorns, to play alongside Maguire.
Neville argued: ‘The thing is they are not going to turf Maguire out. He is the rock, they paid £80million for him, he has played every minute. He is the one they are going to build the defence around.
‘So what you have to do is find the partner for him. That has got to be somebody with the physicality and profile of Bailly, someone who is quick, good in the air, strong and can cover Maguire one on one but is also going to get them up the pitch and allow them to play a little bit higher.’
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has watched his side concede 32 goals in 25 games – 17 more than table-toppers Manchester City so here, Sportsmail looks at some of the potential options for him this summer.
Neville claimed United should look to sign someone with a similar profile to Eric Bailly (left)
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is reportedly on the lookout for a new United centre back this summer
JULES KOUNDE (Sevilla)
Kounde has become one of the most highly-rated young defenders in Europe and enhanced his reputation further with a stunning solo strike against Barcelona in Sevilla’s Copa del Rey semi-final first leg 2-0 win.
United’s interest in the 22-year-old is genuine but Kounde now has a £80million price tag on his head – which could ward off suitors, especially as United are against lavish outlays during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The France Under-21 international fits Solskjaer’s profile as he looks to sign young talent.
Kounde has made 31 appearances for the club this season – scoring three times. He also has versatility as he is able to play at right-back, giving Solskjaer a potential option there too.
Jules Kounde is valued at £80m and enhanced his reputation with a stunning goal vs Barcelona
RAPHAEL VARANE (Real Madrid)
The most high-profile name on this list, Varane has won it all at Real Madrid and is also a World Cup winner with France.
Before joining Real in 2011 he came close to signing for United from French outfit Lens and 10 years on could finally move to Old Trafford.
Varane’s future at Spanish giants Real is reportedly up in the air with the France international yet to sign a contract extension on his current deal that expires in 2022.
The 27-year-old would appear to be a fit alongside Maguire and give Solskjaer a truly world-class centre-back at his disposal.
Varane is quick across ground, good in possession and is a fine disposer of the ball – all of the hallmarks needed for United to play on the front and build attacks from the back.
Raphael Varane (left) is the most high-profile name of these options – shining at Real Madrid
IBRAHIMA KONATE (RB Leipzig)
RB Leipzig have just lost one star centre-back and are now in danger of losing another.
United have had a chance to see Konate at close quarters twice this season in the Champions League. He didn’t cover himself in glory in the first game as the Bundesliga outfit were thumped 5-0 at Old Trafford. However, he did fare better in a 3-2 home win in December – despite scoring an own goal.
A great reader of the game, he thrives at intercepting the ball and starting attacks for his team too. He also possesses an aerial presence at 6ft 4in.
The announced departure of Dayot Upamecano to Bayern Munich next season could prove a stumbling block to Solskjaer though with Leipzig likely to be unwilling to lose him and then Konate in the same summer.
The France Under-21 international has endured an injury-blighted 18 months – and has not featured since December – but when fully fit he has the qualities that would entice Solskjaer.
Ibrahima Konte (left) has faced Manchester United twice this season in the Champions League
DAVID CARMO (Braga)
The 21-year-old was reportedly close to joining Liverpool but is now on the radar of their fiercest rivals.
Like many on this list, the defender’s age fits with what Solskjaer is trying to build at Old Trafford.
What makes him stand out too is that he is left-footed, providing a natural balance in the heart of United’s defence alongside the right-footed Maguire.
Braga are under no pressure to sell, with the the centre-back contracted until 2025, so a substantial fee would have to be offered to entice them – with him reportedly valued at £36m.
However, Carmo is sadly facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines after suffering a broken leg during Braga’s Portuguese Cup semi-final first leg against Porto on February 10.
Naturally left-footed, David Carmo (left) would provide a balance at centre back for United
SVEN BOTMAN (Lille)
Just like Carmo, Botman is a naturally left-footed centre-back who again would provide balance to the Red Devils defence.
Yet to be capped by Holland, it seems like it’s only a matter of time until he earns senior international honours after excelling at Lille this season.
Lille sit top of Ligue 1 by one point above Paris Saint-Germain – and boast the joint-best defence in the division with the French giants.
Lille have only conceded 15 goals in 25 league matches this season and Botman has played an integral role in that keeping 13 clean sheets. According to WhoScored.com no other centre-back in Europe’s top five leagues has kept more clean sheets.
United have had problems dealing with aerial threats this season but that isn’t an issue for Botman – who stands at 6ft 4in and is excellent in the air. He is also assured on the ball and a fine tackler.
Lille centre back Sven Botman has shone this season as they sit top of Ligue 1 ahead of PSG
Speaking earlier this season about Botman, Lille manager Christophe Galthier said: ‘In football, you have leaders who are vocal, ones who gesticulate and ones who shake the team up. I have a few of those.
‘But you also have people who lead by example, through their performances, and it’s true that Sven is emerging as this type of leader.’
Galthier then went on to compare his talents to Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma – a two-time Premier League winner and France international.
‘I had Kurt Zouma who was playing there for Saint-Etienne before he turned 17,’ he continued. ‘I hope Sven can go on to have a career like Kurt.’
Brought in to replace Gabriel when the Brazilian was sold to Arsenal, Botman was scouted by Lille’s transfer guru Luis Campos during an impressive loan spell at SC Heerenveen in the Eredivisie.
Botman is great in the air, at 6ft 4in, and would be able to handle the rigours of English football
PAU TORRES (Villarreal)
Already a Spain international, Torres’ stock continues to rise at Villarreal.
The 24-year-old has £57m release clause with the Spanish outfit and is currently contracted at the Estadio de la Ceramica until 2024.
He isn’t short of suitors with Real Madrid also linked with a potential summer swoop for him.
Like Carmo and Botman he is naturally left-footed and he would be a perfect foil alongside Maguire due to his ball-playing ability and athleticism. The latter two attributes give teams more flexibility when defending with a high line too.
At 6ft 3in he has the physical attributes needed for English football as well and allies that with a high football IQ – often being in the right place positionally.
Pau Torres is an athletic, ball-playing centre back and his style would suit the Red Devils
PS – Which current players could fill the void?
Aside from Lindelof, Solskjaer currently has three other options at centre back he could pair Maguire with at United in Bailly, Axel Tuanzebe and Phil Jones.
Out of that trio Bailly is the best partner alongside Maguire. Although rash at times, the 26-year-old is quick, strong and is prepared to put his body on the line.
The main sticking point with the Ivory Coast international though is making sure his body holds up as he is too injury prone. He has only featured 12 times for the Red Devils this season – with his last Premier League appearance being in a 2-1 win over Fulham on January 20. Since then Solskjaer’s side have won just two of their six top-flight games so it’s no coincidence that his recent injury lay-off is another contributing factor to that.
Between now and the end of the season, Solskjaer and his medical team must find a way to keep him fit if they are to close the gap on table-toppers Manchester City, secure a top-four spot and possibly win the FA Cup and Europa League. His appearance in their Europa League last-32 first leg 4-0 win over Real Sociedad on Thursday is a positive start.
Manchester United must find a way to keep the injury-prone Bailly fit for the rest of the season