Over the last few weeks, Manchester United’s pursuit of Benfica’s highly acclaimed centre-back, Ezequiel Garay, has intensified to the point that at the end of March the Daily Express were confident enough to state he had already completed his move to Old Trafford ahead of the summer transfer window.
United’s desire for a new centre-back has suddenly cooled after a series of stirring back-line performances have seen Messrs. De Gea, Ferdinand, Evra, Rafael and Vidic keep six consecutive clean sheets in the Premier League.
It's a run that goes back as far as January, when Jay Rodriguez breached United’s goal for Southampton.
But it would be remiss of any Red Devils fan to believe that United had shored up their defence sufficiently. Defensive wobbles at Old Trafford against Real Madrid (I know United were down to 10 men but both goals could easily have been stopped) and Chelsea in March saw Sir Alex Ferguson’s dreams of a second treble dissipate, and fans can still remember the ease that opponents found scoring against United during the opening months of the campaign too.
But where is the source of the problem?
Rafael has turned in his most consistent season to date at United, and the Brazilian has improved with every performance, adding a sternness to his defensive duties that hasn’t relinquished his attacking valour.
Patrice Evra has responded to the threat of Alexander Buttner’s arrival by contributing goals to the team’s efforts whilst improving his positional discipline too.
Jonny Evans has grown into a reliable centre-back too, and his showing at the Bernabeu was amongst his finest ever in United red, whilst Rio Ferdinand has adjusted exquisitely to the physical restrictions that come with age.
But what is severely lacking at the heart of United’s defense is pace.
Ferdinand used to be able to jaunt alongside any of the speedy attackers the Premier League had to offer, but now he relies on his intelligence and strength to ward off threats to David De Gea’s goal.
And Nemanja Vidic—who has never been the fastest player on the Old Trafford roster, despite proving his worth to the team throughout United’s current lean spell at the back—isn’t the dominating and commanding presence of yesteryear.
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have also struggled over the last 12 months because of injury, and Ferguson doesn’t appear confident enough to rely on their talents just yet, but at the ages 21 and 23, respectively, the Scot knows they have bright futures ahead of them.
Ferguson knows that United could head into next season’s Premier League pursuit with the same players and claim yet another trophy at a canter, but the allure of the Champions League has always proved too much for him, and he’ll be looking to tweak his squad just a little to make United more competitive against the European elite.
Ezequiel Garay, Benfica’s strong and highly skilled defender, could be the man to help move United up another echelon.
The Portuguese stalwart has matured exponentially since his arrival at the club in 2011, and his performances have helped Benfica to remain unbeaten in the Primeira Liga in 2012/13, where they have only drawn four games too.
Garay would add a continental flavour to United’s defence.
His passing skills, goal threat and speed have long been praised by the club’s followers, but his positional play and tackling valour often go unnoticed due to the flashiness of these attributes.
The centre-back would have to adjust to the rigors of the English game, but at 26-years-old, now is the perfect time for Ferguson to take a punt on the centre-back, someone he could easily build a new defence around for the future.