Man Utd: Defensive frailties frustrate Solskjaer
Manchester United’s problems at the heart of defence were once again laid bare in their 3-3 draw with Everton last Saturday. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men surrendered the lead twice as the Toffees fought back to earn a point with a spirited second-half display.
While Carlo Ancelotti’s half-time message clearly struck a chord, it’s clear this result was partially United’s own doing.
Harry Maguire’s performance was once again called into question.
The United captain played the Everton attack onside, allowing international team-mate Dominic Calvert-Lewin to equalise in stoppage time.
Victor Lindelof was also unconvincing alongside him, as Eric Bailly edges closer to a return to the side.
The jury is still out on United’s first-choice centre-back pairing, something that cannot be said about Premier League rivals and noisy neighbours City.
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Pep Guardiola’s side extended their lead at the top of the table to five points – with a game in hand – with a stunning 4-1 win at Anfield.
Ultimately, it’s their water-tight defence that has proved the difference in recent weeks.
Even Aymeric Laporte has struggled to get a game with John Stones revitalised alongside summer signing Ruben Dias.
The Portuguese has been arguably the best player in the entire division this term and has had a meteoric and immediate impact on this City side.
Yet it was United who first had the chance to sign him from Benfica, over a year before he joined City.
In the summer of 2019 before United signed Maguire, checks were made on Dias and the club’s recruitment team were impressed.
According to Portuguese outlet O Jogo, a bid was even refused by Benfica president Luis Filipe Vieira.
The Primeira Liga outfit did not want to sell for less than his £57.8million release clause.
United’s interest also saw Dias stall on a new contract with Benfica, complicating their chances of keeping him.
The Red Devils became set on signing Maguire though and completed a world-record deal worth £80m for the Leicester defender.
City boss Guardiola later revealed that Maguire was one of his top targets but they did not have the money to sign him.
“Maguire is an excellent, top-class player,” he said. “We were interested, but we could not afford it. United afford it. He’s an excellent player, national team too, he had an incredible World Cup.
“He’s strong in the air, good with the ball, the build-up, he drives with the ball, he’s fast, so fast. He has all the qualities. Congratulations to United for this signature.”
A year later, City were able to use Nicolas Otamendi as a sweetener in a deal for Dias.
It was a decision that has already proved a masterstroke and made a mockery of United’s costly swoop for Maguire.
Dias may have been the solution to United’s defensive issues and now he looks set to help City regain the title.
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