Newly appointed Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has plenty of pressing issues to attend to once he joins his coaching staff this pre-season, perhaps most importantly a striking lack of depth and quality in the centre of defence.
Previous incumbent David Moyes unfortunately oversaw a critical slump in fortunes on the red half of Manchester, with the Red Devils finishing seventh in the 2013/14 Premier League season.
The Scotsman seemed to struggle to decide on his strongest XI, and perhaps most vitally this was evident within his back four.
Messrs Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans represent United’s youthful promise at centre-back, but none flattered themselves with their performances last season.
Furthermore, with Nemanja Vidic this week labelling his free transfer to Inter Milan this summer a “step forward,” per BBC Sport, and reports courtesy of The Guardian among others linking free agent Rio Ferdinand with a move to QPR this summer, Van Gaal’s back four is left cripplingly lacking.
Therefore it is likely that the Dutchman will need to dip into the transfer market to solidify his central defensive options.
Here are five potential targets to solve Manchester United’s central defensive crisis.
However, according to the publication, “United are poised to seal the £10 million capture of Vermaelen as they address the double defensive loss of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.”
This would represent a surprise move by the side as the Belgian has fallen out of favour under Arsene Wenger, with suggestions that his quality has diminished of late.
However, the 28-year-old would provide Van Gaal’s defence with assured experience and immeasurable leadership; Vermaelen remains captain of the London club, despite his lack of appearances.
WhoScored.com credits the defender with making on average 1.0 tackle and 1.4 interceptions per game, a fairly meagre return for a centre-back. Furthermore, he struggled with persistent and varied injury issues, with PhysioRoom.com totalling seven separate layoffs in 2013/14 alone.
However, Vermaelen’s pass success rate of 90.8 per cent in the Premier League last season would see him slot adeptly into the possession-based brand of football the Dutch manager will likely impose on his new side.
A solid run of games could see Vermaelen pick up the form that once made him such an integral player for Wenger, but United may need further reinforcement to compensate for prevailing injury issues.
One potential option to complement Vermaelen would be compatriot Jan Vertonghen who, according to The Daily Telegraph in February, may be looking for a move away from Spurs due to their lack of Champions League qualification.
Naturally, this too would be a problem at United, but the draw of a world-class, visionary manager such as Van Gaal may hold sway over the 27-year-old.
Per WhoScored, Vertonghen made on average 1.4 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per game last season, a contribution marginally better than that of Vermaelen.
Added to his game, however, is a swashbuckling nature that allows the Belgian to be deployed equally in the left-back position—a versatility likely to endear Vertonghen to the United manager.
The lofty defender’s passing accuracy of 82.9 per cent would likely require some working on, but Vertonghen could become a key member of Van Gaal’s squad were United to plump for this option.
Bruno Martins Indi
It is inevitable that, due to Van Gaal’s current involvement as Netherlands manager, this summer a large proportion of players linked with a move to Old Trafford have been Dutch.
One such option is 22-year-old international Bruno Martins Indi, who The Guardian have linked with a move to join his World Cup manager in England.
At such a young age but a vital part operations for both club—at Feyenoord—and country, Martins Indi has plenty of potential to develop his game under Van Gaal, while also being able to contribute comfortably from the off.
Making on average, according to Squawka, 1.08 tackles and 1.12 interceptions per game, Martins Indi is still a fairly raw option as a defender, but young age can compensate for this.
Furthermore, the youngster would slot perfectly into Van Gaal’s likely system at United, due to his current involvement on the international scene—a player already accustomed with "total football."
Stefan de Vrij
Another potential option, in the same vein as Martins Indi, is the defender’s Netherlands and Feyenoord teammate, Stefan de Vrij.
Also at 22 years old, the Dutchman is at a hugely similar stage of his development as Martins Indi, and the Daily Mail linked the player with a move to Old Trafford back in June.
[Feyenoord] are bracing themselves for a series of departures and…de Vrij looks set to reject the option of Lazio for the chance to join Manchester United once a formal offer is accepted. The price is expected to be £7million with add-ons.
At such a reportedly low price, United would be securing one of the bargains of the summer, with De Vrij set to just get better and better.
At club level last season, the centre-back made on average 1.81 tackles, 1.97 interceptions and a huge 6.47 clearances per game, according to Squawka.
Much the same goes for De Vrij as it does for Martins Indi when it comes to adaptation under Van Gaal, and a 87 per cent pass success rate sets the player on the right course immediately.
The final option in this selection represents perhaps the most desirable central defensive signing in European football: Borussia Dortmund and Germany defender Mats Hummels.
The Daily Express claim that “United are ready to test [Jurgen] Klopp's resolve with an offer of £20 million.”
It is likely that the German international would prefer to stay in the Bundesliga, and even if a deal were to be brokered the fee would likely exceed the one quoted by a fair amount.
Nevertheless, Van Gaal should go all out to sign the 25-year-old, who is an exceptional defender both on the ground and in the air.
Per WhoScored, Hummels made on average 2.0 tackles and 2.5 interceptions per game last season, as Dortmund finished second in the league.
Furthermore, the centre-back is phenomenal in the air and can contribute in attacking quarters, as evidenced by his recent goal in the 1-0 World Cup quarter-final victory over France.
Klopp and Dortmund will be a tough nut to crack, but Hummels would be the best central defensive signing for Van Gaal to begin his tenure with the Red Devils alongside.
Which of these centre-back options would you like to see for Manchester United next season? Let us know in the comments below.