Just seven points shy of Premier League leaders Chelsea – not to mention the noisy neighbours – Manchester United have the potential to stage a late charge for the English crown in the New Year, provided they can land the right signings in January.
Top of the list has to be a well-established, proven centre-back; the fact Louis van Gaal has issued Premier League debuts to three academy centre-halves already this season, Michael Keane, Tyler Blackett and Patrick McNair, tells all about the chaotic inconsistencies at the heart of United’s defence.
The Old Trafford outfit proved during the summer that they’re prepared to splash the cash however, so with that in mind, here’s FIVE top centre-backs that should be within their financial grasp.
Height: 6 foot 3
Positions: Centre-back, defensive midfield
Teams: Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, German national team
Honours: Bundesliga titles in 2011 and 2012, Champions League finalist 2013, World Cup 2014
Linked clubs: Arsenal, Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid
Likely transfer fee: £47million, according to the Express
Unquestionably Louis van Gaal’s preferred candidate to fill United’s void at centre-half, Mats Hummels is considered to be one of the leading defenders in world football and has prior history with the Old Trafford boss, having briefly worked together at Bayern Munich.
The Germany star combines aerial dominance and anticipatory defending with a Franz-Beckenbaur-esque ability to instigate or join attacks from deep positions, with an impressive passing range and the confidence to carry the ball into midfield.
He’d be a real game-changer for the Red Devils and although the towering defender ruled out a move during the summer, instead accepting the Borussia Dortmund captaincy, he may have a change of heart in January now that the Westfalen outfit have dropped to second-bottom in the Bundesliga table.
Height: 6 foot 3
Positions: Centre-back only
Teams: AZ, Feyenoord, Aston Villa, Netherlands national team
Honours: KNVB Cup 2008, World Cup third-place 2014
Linked clubs: Arsenal, Manchester United, Tottenham, Southampton
Likely transfer fee: £8million, according to the Birmingham Mail
Ron Vlaar’s never really stood out in the Premier League despite his continued importance to Aston Villa’s top flight survival, but heroic performances at the World Cup, at the heart of Louis van Gaal’s Oranje outfit, proved his capability to play at a higher level.
Vlaar excelled as the central defensive figure in a 3-5-2 – a formation LVG has continually found himself reverting back to in his first season at Old Trafford- but perhaps most importantly, the he offers experience and leadership, currently serving as Villains captain, which should bring some much-needed organisation to United’s chaotic defence.
Furthermore, his contract is set to expire at the end of the season, suggesting Concrete Ron can be lured away on the cheap in January. Manager Paul Lambert however, insists his skipper isn’t for sale.
Height: 6 foot 2
Positions: Centre-back, Left-back, defensive midfield
Teams: Ajax, Tottenham, Belgium national team
Honours: Eredivisie tiles in 2010/11 and 2011/12, Ajax Player of the Year 2011/12, Premier League Team of the Year 2012/13
Linked clubs: Arsenal, Barcelona, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United,
Likely transfer fee: £17million, according to Mirror Football
As detailed below, Jan Vertonghen has never quite matched the sensational form of his first season in the Premier League:
But the Belgian international is a fantastically progressive, front-footed centre-back blessed with pace and technical ability, and few would dispute that he’s one of the Premier League’s best when enjoying top form.
He’s experienced, versatile and in theory perfect for a back three, whilst his ability to play at left-back would provided some much-needed cover for Luke Shaw.
Spurs have made a point of not selling their flagship stars to divisional rivals in the past, but Vertonghen has recently ended contract negotiations at White Hart Lane without signing a new deal, suggesting the Lilywhites could be lured around the negotiating table in January.
Height: 6 foot 2
Positions: left-back, right-back, centre-back
Teams: Schalke, German national team
Honours: DFB Pokal 2011, World Cup 2014
Linked clubs: Manchester United, Arsenal
Likely transfer fee: £15million, according to The Metro
A real jack of all trades, Benedikt Howedes’ defining strength as a footballer is his complete comfort in any position across the back four.
As a near-eternal fixture in Germany’s successful World Cup campaign he featured at left-back, which is no easy feat when you measure in at 6 foot 2 and aren’t particularly famed for your acceleration.
Rather, the Schalke captain is an intelligent, robust and technically competent defender, boasting an impressive pass completion rate of 92% in the Champions League this term. Here’s a look at the rest of his vitals:
There are certainly more coveted defenders out there but a highly versatile natural leader on the verge of his footballing peak, Howedes would be an impressive addition to United’s squad.
Height: 6 foot 1
Teams: Coritiba, Sochaux, Sao Paolo, Atletico Marid, Brazil national team
Honours: Brazilian League 2006, 2007, 2008, Europa League 2011/12, Copa del Rey 2012/2013, La Liga title 2013/14, Champions League finalist 2013/14
Linked clubs: Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea
Likely transfer fee: £24million release clause
Atletico Madrid are perhaps the best-organised defensive unit in Europe, and at the heart of that world-class organisation is Brazilian centre-half Miranda.
Manchester United have been eying centre-back partner Diego Godin too, but recent speculation claims Miranda is now the more likely to arrive at Old Trafford in January, with youngster Jose Giminez impressing as a stand-in for the sidelined south American.
Miranda is quick, athletic, cultured on the ball and comes with the calming aura of a dependable defender, rarely committing individual mistakes. Having now reached a Champions League final and claimed a Spanish title, his credentials as a top-level centre-back are undoubted.
The prevailing concern however, is that £24million is a lot to pay for a 30 year-old.