Manchester United began their summer on a positive note with the signing of Swedish international Victor Lindelöf from Portuguese champions Benfica on a four-year deal. The move is sure to bolster United’s often inconsistent back-line, and will likely not be the last defensive signing José Mourinho makes this summer. The full-back position has been a major issue in the last two seasons and badly needs addressing.
The Manchester United Full-Back Situation
Inconsistent at left-back
The bigger issue comes at left-back, where Luke Shaw, who has completed his third full season at Manchester United, is yet to find his feet at the club following more injury problems and the failure to satisfy manager José Mourinho on several occasions. The Englishman has started just eleven Premier League fixtures this term, with injury hounding him once again, the latest one coming at the start of May, which was expected to rule him out until at least the start of the next season.
He had similar problems in his first season under Louis van Gaal, and despite a positive start to the 2015-16 campaign, he suffered a horrific double leg-break against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League and in the process, has created several other deputies for the position. Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo have played there, but their style is more suited to a centre-half role. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson held the role temporarily through the winter of 2015, but was shipped out on loan by Mourinho, and Matteo Darmian has failed to fully acclimatise to the Premier League, despite his impressive showing in the Europa League final last month.
Several full-time options have been touted in the last few months, with AS Monaco’s Benjamin Mendy being the likeliest option. Monaco’s Ligue 1-winning side was expected to be taken apart, with Bernardo Silva having already joined Manchester City earlier in the window. Mendy would bring a different element to the Manchester United attack and could form a fine partnership with either Henrikh Mkhitaryan or Anthony Martial.
Benjamin Mendy’s numbers over the Ligue 1 season have been nothing short of excellent. His performances in the Champions League were equally as strong as Monaco reached the semi-final stage before subsequently losing to Juventus. A full-back always willing to burst forward, his crossing ability and accuracy is one of the best in France and he has formed a fine partnership with Thomas Lemar on the left-wing, becoming Monaco’s most creative attacking outlet.
In addition to that, he is very astute in defence. Mendy possesses the ability to anticipate danger significantly early; an attribute that has largely contributed his side’s defensive solidity. If Manchester United do sign him up, they would be getting a player who can perfectly fit the billing as a top quality Premier League full-back. Still only 22, he has the potential to become one of the world’s best, and if he is anything like the last full-back they signed from Monaco, Patrice Evra, the United faithful are in for a treat.
Long-term uncertainty at right-back
On the opposite flank, Manchester United do not face the same problem as they do on the other side. Antonio Valencia has, statistically, been one of the best right-backs in the Premier League this season and at 31, has been a major source of consistency for the club. Expected to have a bit-part role under José Mourinho, he surprised everyone with his sensational displays and ended up winning the club’s Players Player of the Year award.
It is clear, however, that most full-backs aren’t able to perform at the highest level once they are close to their mid-thirties and that could be a problem for Manchester United in the coming years. The main problem is that there are few capable replacements for the position should anything go wrong over the course of the next season. As a result, another Benfica arrival could fix the issue: that of Portuguese right-back Nelson Semedo, who has enjoyed a break-through year with the Portuguese champions.
Semedo’s performances have earned several suitors this season and he offers a similar skill-set to Benjamin Mendy. He has been one of the most creative players for the club this past season, with his dribbling and tackling being amongst his finest attributes. In a fairly disappointing Champions League season for Benfica, he was one of their best players. To make matters more convenient, he is managed by Gestifute—the agency that has the most links with both José Mourinho and Manchester United, which would put them in the driving seat ahead of their rivals.
Perhaps his only biggest issue comes with his physicality, which could be a potential deal-breaker considering the stature of the Premier League. Standing at 5 feet 8 inches tall, he also maintains a fairly thin frame and although it helps with his blistering pace, he will face an aerial disadvantage, something which has already been exposed on several occasions with Benfica.
As things stand, United have more problems to address on the left flank than the right, but if either problem persists next season, any chance of challenging for the Premier League or Champions League will take a massive hit.