Manchester United were lethal in attack last time out as they hammered Bournemouth 5-2. But it wasn’t a perfect display.
The best managers in the business will be quick to state that no performance is ever ‘perfect’, but United’s defence was exposed by a team that had scored just 30 goals in the league coming into Saturday’s game. Indeed, only three other teams had scored a fewer amount of goals.
But it was the manner of the goals conceded that will be somewhat concerning for Red Devils boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The first saw a cross come into the box, which should have been comfortable for Victor Lindelof to clear. Instead, he was unable to get his head to it, allowing Junior Stanislas to receive the ball. After firing the ball back in, it rolled back out to him. This time, he decided to have a go himself, nutmegging Harry Maguire before firing in at the near post.
If that was bad, then the second was almost comical. In fact, it was comical.
After Lindelof went off injured at half time, United made a very sloppy start to the second period, almost immediately conceding a penalty following some poor play from Harry Maguire and Nemanja Matic. Matic’s heavy pass back to substitute Eric Bailly saw the defender accidentally handle the ball – via his shoulder – to concede a penalty.
The hugely impressive win over Bournemouth perhaps papered over the negatives of the display. While United’s defence has improved throughout the season, it could clearly still be strengthened.
And it appears as though Solskjaer is very much aware of this, judging by his comments to Nathan Ake after the full time whistle. BT Sport camera footage appears to show the United boss putting his arm around the central defender, before cheekily telling him that ‘we need another left-footed centre-back so keep going!’.
The Red Devils have long been linked with the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly and Milan Skriniar as Solskjaer looks to build a side capable of challenging for trophies.
The obvious problem with a move for either of these players is, of course, money.
It was a problem even before the global coronavirus pandemic, but even more so now. World class centre-backs such as Koulibaly and Skriniar wouldn’t come cheap and it would be hard to envisage a scenario where United fork out a hefty amount on a central defender when their priorities lie elsewhere.
A source confirmed to 90min back in March that the Red Devils’ priority signings are Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish and Jude Bellingham – although the Birmingham City youngster is set to join Borussia Dortmund instead. Of course, none of these players are defenders.
The Telegraph‘s Matt Law also says that Solskjaer is likely to prioritise the signing of a right-sided player or even a striker before signing a defender. But with United set to allow Marcos Rojo to leave the club this summer, the need for a left-footed defender has been made ‘even greater’.
Considering United’s priorities, the cost of a potential deal as well as his talent and experience, Ake ticks pretty much every box for Solskjaer.
Despite his side’s major issues this season in defence, Ake has continued to show his quality – leading to much talk about his future.
The 25-year-old isn’t exactly tall, standing at under six feet, but he has proven to be a threat from set pieces for the Cherries in recent seasons. However, he is equally capable of playing out from the back and starting attacks with his range of passing, while he is further capable of using his pace to make recovery runs to nullify the threat on his side’s goal.
The latter attribute is especially important to United as it has been suggested that the most ideal partner for Maguire would be a ball-playing defender who is also fast.
Not only is Ake a proven Premier League defender, he is also at the perfect point in his playing career to make the step up and be a major asset to this United side. At just 25, his best years are arguably still ahead of him, but he has already gained plenty of experience playing against the very best – he doesn’t deserve to be battling it out at the bottom of the table.
Lindelof and Maguire are currently the first-choice pairing for Solskjaer, and they have looked resolute at times – but the addition of a left-footed centre-back would allow United to explore different avenues in the build up which they haven’t yet been able to do.
This is because even the likes of Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Axel Tuanzebe and even youngster Teden Mengi are all right-footed. In contrast, the balance at the back has been clear for all to see when Luke Shaw has been moved into a back three, allowing each defender to play to their strengths.
With Maguire on the right of a two-man pairing and Ake on the left, this could make the midfield three more accessible and, therefore, easier to build attacks.
As previously noted, United’s priority in the next transfer window isn’t a central defender – but it makes complete sense to take advantage of the situation that has been presented to them. The club clearly hold some interest in landing another defender, and a player like Ake could be just what the Red Devils need at the back.
There’s also his cost to consider. Bournemouth are said to be ready to offload a number of star players even if they remain in the Premier League as they look to deal with the financial impact of the coronavirus. As a result, the club will listen to offers for Ake, who is valued in the region of £40m – but this figure could drop if they are relegated.
Koulibaly and Skriniar, of course, sound great because…well, why wouldn’t they?
But they would hardly come cheap. Instead, bringing in Ake for a very reasonable price would allow United to continue to focus on their priority signings, while also strengthening the defence. A proven Premier League defender who meets all the necessary criteria for Solskjaer, it makes a great deal of sense for United to sign Ake.