With Manchester United’s biggest game of the season coming up against arch-rivals Liverpool and to get the three points the fans demand, the defence has to be solid. Starting at the centre-back pairing.
So with Marcos Rojo coming back from injury should he start alongside Daley Blind?
Blind and Rojo is a risk but could work
Starting a natural midfielder in Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo who has only just came back from injury, could be a big risk. But Louis Van Gaal is well known for taking risks if he believes they will pay off.
Daley Blind who is a natural central midfielder at heart, is well known for being good at positioning himself off the ball. This is vital when it comes to a centre-back, especially one who isn’t as physical as a standard centre-back. Due to his small size it is key for Blind to be good off the ball, so thankfully for him positioning is his specialty as a footballer.
In the last few years, in football it is very common for defensive partnerships to have one composed ball-playing player and one more physical player. Blind would suit the ball-playing role down to the ground, not only is he clearly composed on the ball regardless of how much pressure he is under, but his 91% pass completion so far this season, shows very clearly that he can also fit into the ball-playing role with ease.
Furthermore it is vital for a newly drafted in centre-back to prove himself straightaway in that position, due to how key the position. So far in the Premier League he averages nine defensive actions a game these include; blocks, interceptions and clearances.
While a midfielder moving to centre-back is likely going to lead to the new defender being exposed on several occasions, Blind has in reality only been exposed once at that was against Batefembi Gomis, for his winner at the Liberty Stadium. While Romero should have saved the weak shot, there is no stopping how Gomis bullied Blind out of the way. But to only be exposed once so far this season is an impressive start by Blind.
As for Marcos Rojo, coming back from injury could be key for Manchester United and Louis van Gaal. The Argentine moved to Manchester United last season and fought hard to have a place in the starting 11. He can easily slip into the role of being the more physical nature, because of his aggressive style.
Last season he played 22 times for Manchester United with only two of them coming off the bench, showing how he became a constant under Louis van Gaal. With an average of nine defensive actions over the course of 22 league fixtures, shows that he is getting involved in the match and not shirking off any physical situations. Which in a heated rivalry such as Manchester United vs Liverpool, is extremely important for the rest of the team.
As for Rojo’s mental state with not having played so far this season and being thrown into a match against Liverpool, the Argentine centre-back has turned down multiple other clubs to remain at Manchester United. So he has proven he is desperate to prove himself and what better way to prove himself than in the biggest game of the season?
There are benefits of this defensive partnership.
Will this work in reality however?
While there are plenty of reasons as to why this may work for United and there are reasons as to why Blind and Rojo would be a possible partnership. But on the other hand there are plenty of reasons as to why these two players wouldn’t suit each other, or should be the partnership.
Last season Marcos Rojo showed his worth as a starting centre back, playing in 22 games. So logically he would be ideal to start against Liverpool, however as he is yet to play a game for United this season due to injury, there are questions on how fit he really is for this game. A match against arch-rivals is no time for an unfit centre-back to be starting.
Fitness is a serious enough problem as it is, but it can also lead to mistakes from a defender. Last season he made four mistakes unchallenged which led to goal scoring opportunities, so add his potential lack of match fitness to this then it shows that Rojo could make a mistake which leads to a vital goal.
As for Daley Blind the Dutch midfielder now turned centre-back, standing at 5 foot 10’ and weighing in at 11 stone, makes for a fairly lightweight and small centre-back. As a result of this it is likely that he could be targeted by Liverpool who have a target man in Christian Benteke, who is one of the Premier League's most feared strikers in the air. Blind has in fact only won 50% of all headed duels so far this season, hardly filling people with confidence that he can stand up for himself against Benteke.
The reality is Smalling is undroppable at the moment.
The reality of the situation is that English defender Chris Smalling is simply not droppable from the United starting 11, as he has arguably been United’s best player so far this season.
He has kept the defence together and has been as solid as a rock at the back, dealing with aerial threats winning 71% of aerial duals thus far. As a genuine centre-back he has been able aid Blind in keeping his cool and keeping him strictly in position when the Dutchman is rarely found wanting.
Adding to his aerial power, he averages 12 defensive actions per game so far this season, proving his willingness to get involved in the game. But compared to former years where he picked up too many yellow cards, he is no longer diving in recklessly.
Without Chris Smalling the Manchester United defence would be in disarray.
Who should start then?
In any normal circumstance then Smalling and Rojo is arguably the best defensive partnership Manchester United have to offer, despite that Blind is in all honesty performing well. It is hard to see him excelling at the centre-back position.
That being said however, this weekend’s game against Liverpool is not a normal fixture and requires the best team you have to offer at that moment. Rojo has just come back from injury so is likely not fully match fit. Playing a defender who may or may not be fully fit against Benteke, Coutinho and Firminho is not a wise move.
For that reason Van Gaal shouldn’t change his team for such a vital game and stick with Smalling and Blind as the defensive partnership.