Gary Neville has questioned whether Manchester United can win the Premier League title with their current central defensive options.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have dropped vital points of late – most recently in the 1-1 draw against struggling West Bromwich Albion. Captain Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof were the centre-back pairing at the Hawthorns.
Neville does not think they are compatible in the same team and believes his former club need to bring in a fresh face in that position.
“They’re not going to turf Maguire out,” he told Sky Sports. “They’ve invested £80m, he’s the cornerstone of the defence and the one they will build the defence around.
“So they need to find a partner for him. It’s got to be someone of the physicality and profile of Eric Bailly. Someone who is quick, good in the air, strong and can cover Maguire one-on-one. But also someone who’s going to get them up the pitch to allow them to play a bit higher.
“Lindelof’s problem is Maguire and Maguire’s problem is Lindelof. I think if you put Lindelof alongside Van Dijk at Liverpool, I think he’s a really good player.
“He understands the game, he reads the game, he’s a good defender. If he was alongside a Ferdinand or a Van Dijk, I think he’d make a great pair. The problem is he alongside somebody who’s not the most mobile in Harry Maguire.
“The problem Lindelof has got is they’ve invested £80m on Maguire so they’re going to have to put someone alongside him. They both seem to drop back a little bit and you need someone who can get them up the pitch.”
So, who fits the bill for United? A number of names have been mentioned.
One of those, Dayot Upamecano, is set to join Bayern Munich in the summer. Upamecano’s RB Leipzig centre-back partner Ibrahima Konate has also been touted as a potential target. United remain admirers of Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane and Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli.
Meanwhile, Sevilla central defender Jules Kounde is also being talked about as a future Premier League player. The 22-year-old Frenchman started out at Bordeaux, making his senior debut in 2017 and going on to make 70 appearances for the club.
He made a £22million move to Sevilla in the summer of 2019 and helped the Spanish side win the Europa League and finish fourth in La Liga. The youngster was named in UEFA’s Europa League squad of 2019-20, along with United trio Bruno Fernandes, Fred and Marcus Rashford.
Kounde was even a target for Man City last summer but the deal fell through and they ended up signing Ruben Dias in a club-record £65million transfer from Benfica.
“Yes, I spoke with (City boss) Pep Guardiola… on the telephone,’ Kounde told Canal Football Club.
“We spoke in Spanish. Everything went well. I was interested in going there and I had guarantees that I would play. But it didn’t happen.”
Kounde is now said to be attracting attention from a number of clubs across Europe, including United. Spanish media outlet AS reports that United are willing to offer up to 70million euros (around £61m) for the player. Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Barcelona have also been credited with an interest in Kounde.
He has been hailed for his tactical awareness, vision and maturity beyond his years. He is good on the ball and has shown that passing out from the back is not a problem for him. Capable with both feet, he has played on the right and the left of a centre-back pairing – and even at full-back on occasion, earning him the nickname “Cafu” from his team-mates.
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Kounde is not the tallest for a central defender – measuring in at around 6ft – but makes up for any lack of height with an impressive leap, making him deceptively strong in the air.
This season, Sevilla currently sit fourth in La Liga, behind Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona. They have the second best defensive record, conceding 16 goals in 22 league fixtures.
Kounde could provide an ideal foil for Maguire, and has time on his side when it comes to fulfilling his obvious potential, so would represent a long-term investment should United make their move in the summer transfer window.