De Ligt signs, Gutierrez bid, Maguire sold

There was a point during the 4-3 FA Cup quarter-final win over Liverpool in March when Manchester United only had one centre-half on the pitch. Jurgen Klopp scored all three.

It came on stage that Antony was playing as a fullback. Harry Maguire was left alone with Diogo Dalot on one side and plenty of space on the other.

Looking back at this defence, even in the short period it was deployed out of sheer desperation, it was perhaps not the worst defense Erik ten Hag has put out on the pitch. Was the group of players who conceded three that day really more incompetent and rag-tag than the selection that included Aaron Wan-Bissaka at left-back and Casemiro centrally during the 4-0 win against Crystal Palace six a week later?

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Ten Hag were rightly criticized for the lack of structure around and in front of the defence, especially when Andre Onana was often left facing 20 or more shots on target on a weekly basis, but the coach had a point. His options have been blighted by injury throughout, and that doesn’t help a great success with an XI that includes multiple players out of place or not in the plans 12 months ago.

The extent to which Ten Hag was responsible for these issues is now a point of censorship. The United hierarchy, led by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, his minority investment group Ineos, and the new model in place, decided one way or another to keep the head coach in charge.

Now the plan is to give him better tools to work with. The departure of Raphael Varane on June 30 was the start of the transition but it is almost certain not to be the end. United have already set out their stall in the summer transfer window to make defensive changes.

From an open day offer for Jarrad Branthwaite to talks with Nice’s Jean-Claire Todibo, the focus is clear. Fortunately for Ten Hag, despite the minimal budget available so far, and a lack of real action coming in, there is still time to revamp their options.

Here, the Manchester Evening News He looks at his dream back line.

Andre Onana

Starting in goal, for various reasons. 1) The ‘keeper is clearly part of the defensive unit, 2) at United last season Onana was often left completely stranded, and 3) Ten Hag has such a big role for his No.1 on the ball that it can be considered as someone else’s defender sometimes anyway.

Onana was, in some ways, one of the better performers for United last season despite a terrible start. He and Ten Hag, and everyone else involved with the club, for that matter, will be hoping that things improve in and around him in the future.

Diogo Dalot

There is still no change from the side Ten Hag selected last season, but it is about to change. Dalot has been one of the best performers from the pitch, to go along with his goalkeeper, and will aim to add to an impressive solo campaign even if the team has failed to live up to expectations.

Matthijs de Ligt

This is where things start to get interesting. Bayern Munich goalkeeper De Ligt is the first new signing in this defence. He has links with Ten Hag from his Ajax days but even without that overlap he would be a distinct candidate.

De Ligt has high-level European experience, leadership qualities, and has previously played with three back fours and a goalkeeper. The most obvious current replacement for Varane is on the right side of defense although left-footed options are being pursued. His arrival could end Harry Maguire’s United career once and for all, however.

Matthijs de Ligt

Matthijs de Ligt could link up with Erik ten Hag again -Credit:Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images.

Lisandro Martinez

The Argentine may feel like a new signing if he can stay fit next season. After missing most of the 2023/24 campaign, Martinez will be welcomed back with open arms by both the coaching staff and his teammates.

In form, Martinez has shown why Ten Hag have been so keen to sign him in the first two full summers so far. As a small man with De Ligt, the big and small partnership here, playing their best sides, would be an ideal base to build from. Martinez is United’s best defender when he’s available, this spot is his permanent should the issues and problems go away.

Miguel Gutierrez

With Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia as first choice and the option to play Dalot on the left if and when needed, it didn’t look like they would need a new fullback anytime soon. But with injuries plaguing both players for far too many of the past 12 months, it’s no surprise that they’ve been pulled back into the market.

It was reported that Gutierrez Girona caught the attention. The Spaniard, who came through Real Madrid’s youth academy before moving to Football Group side Girona City in 2022, could move back to the capital this summer before being sold.

Madrid are said to trigger a break clause in his contract after impressing Michel. Florentino Perez will then aim to sell him for more than £25 million, with United one of the sides being linked.

Gutierrez, 22, played 35 times in the league for Girona last year as they finished in the Champions League places, scoring twice and assisting seven. He is a mainstay in the side and is now earning attention.

On paper this is how United could look if their transfer plans go through. Other defensive targets included Branthwaite, Todibo, Leny Yoro, Todibo, and many more. There’s still room to rotate here with Jonny Evans in the mix, a decision to be made over Maguire, Willy Kambwala aiming for a breakout season, and existing full-back depth.

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