sport news Manchester United: How Erik ten Hag could overhaul central defence trends now
57 goals scored, 57 goals conceded. At least Manchester United were consistent in some ways last season with their worst performance in the goal difference column since 1990.
It was a defensive horror show pretty much from start to finish, conceding four goals in a game on five occasions and suffering a 5-0 drubbing at home by arch-rivals Liverpool.
We witnessed a litany of individual mistakes, lapses in concentration and an absence of leadership as United's back line kept just eight Premier League clean sheets all season.
Manchester United struggled in defence last season with captain Harry Maguire (left) and Victor Lindelof (right) among those who underperformed
£40m signing from Real Madrid Raphael Varane must have wondered what was happening
It falls to new manager Erik ten Hag to restore the shot confidence in the United back line
Nobody save goalkeeper David de Gea emerged with any credit from a car crash of a campaign. Struggling captain Harry Maguire, £40million signing Raphael Varane, the unreliable Victor Lindelof - every centre-back was culpable at some point.
With new manager Erik ten Hag threatening to grab the club by the lapels and give it a good shake, defensive change is coming.
The priority purchase this summer is a dynamic central midfielder, someone like Frenkie de Jong. But signing a new central defender comes very swiftly behind, especially if Ten Hag wants to change United's system.
They have been linked with Ajax's talented 20-year-old defender Jurrien Timber, someone Ten Hag obviously knows well having spotted his potential and elevated him into his former team.
Timber won't be the finished article at that age but he is nimble in covering open space, has a sound reading of the game and plenty of scope for improvement under Ten Hag's guidance.
Jurrien Timber, the talented 20-year-old Holland and Ajax defender, could come to United
It was Ten Hag that gave Timber his breakthrough when Ajax manager
Importantly, he has been schooled in the style of football Ten Hag will attempt to bring to United - high intensity, front-foot, hard-pressing.
A £30million deal appeared close a couple of weeks ago but former manager Louis van Gaal appears to have lobbed a spanner in the works by telling Timber his international career would be affected if he signs for United.
Other potential targets are Timber's Ajax team-mates Lisandro Martinez and Villarreal's Pau Torres are alternatives. United will need to bring someone in at the back before August.
It's clear their current stock of central defenders are performing considerably below the levels they should be or simply weren't good enough in the first place.
As Sportsmail reported, Maguire will stay at the club but it's possible Ten Hag will remove the captain's armband from him following a calamitous 2021-22 season in which he suffered a post-Euros hangover that lasted nine months.
The England international slumped alarmingly from the strong performances seen in the lead-up to that tournament and urgent improvement is required.
We all know Maguire isn't the fastest defender but he compensates with authority in the air and a willingness to carry the ball out of defence. But when his confidence is low, even these qualities become liabilities.
Maguire struggled all season, suffering some kind of knock-on effect from Euro heartbreak
Recent international duty offered little respite as England were thrashed 4-0 by Hungary
What Maguire needs is some help. It's why a speedy defensive partner such as Timber would be well-suited to anticipate and defuse the danger if an opponent manages to outmanoeuvre Maguire, while the skipper handles the physical jobs.
So where does that leave Varane? As United legend Rio Ferdinand opined this week, the Frenchman must have been gobsmacked at the gulf in