Pitchside

Three world-class defenders, but only one Man United must sign

Pitchside

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Among the relatively unheard-of or unproven clutch of young-ish Dutch defenders, several conceivably world class centre-halves have seen themselves linked with what, were they not the biggest club in the country, would seem an unenviable challenge: to man one of those defensive positions at Manchester United.

Success for Louis van Gaal depends on getting his back-four blend just right and those to have taken up a bleaker outlook would say the entire line fielded in the last campaign needs tearing up and re-fitting with a brand-new bunch.

With a deal to take Luke Shaw to Man United done and dusted, the concern now shifts towards the centre-back slots.

In a practical sense, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic won't be missed but now there's no two ways about it. There is still time for the experiment to pay off - though not much of it - but Chris Smalling and Phil Jones won't be entrusted with the responsibility of functioning as Louis van Gaal's defensive core any time soon.

Recruits of first-team calibre are seemingly necessary, and so here's three big-name buys the club have reportedly been puzzling over:

1) Miranda

If recent reports are to be believed, a wire of £24 million to Atletico Madrid and Miranda's a Man United player.

He's just proved instrumental during a league campaign which delivered the first domestic trophy in almost two decades, as well a Champions League runners-up medal and the best defensive record - 26 goals conceded in 38 games - in La Liga.

He has, in fact, helped keep 20 clean sheets with Atleti, a figure bettered only by Roma (21) across Europe's top five leagues.

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And yet, something feels slightly wrong about that price tag. Mainly because Miranda is a 29-year-old centre-half, and one who didn't make Brazil's World Cup squad.

It is, perhaps, harsh to pick him up on this. Luiz Felipe Scolari's favourite team is notoriously entrenched and though David Luiz, only two years Miranda's junior, hasn't quite lived up to the hype at club level, general opinion looks favourably on his partnership with Thiago Silva.

Given the circumstances, it's a mammoth task to get close to a starting spot, all the more so considering Bayern Munich's Dante is also ahead of him in the pecking order.

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Most off-putting, though, is that the extent to which Miranda has excelled with Atleti is thoroughly entangled with Diego Simeone's system and the collective efforts of the rest of the team, especially central-defensive partner Diego Godin.

This makes unpacking Miranda's individual ability quite a complicated conundrum and whether he could recreate his recent form elsewhere is a mystery Man United might not want to pay £24 million to unravel.

2) Mehdi Benatia

Roma's sporting director is making some intimidating noises regarding rival clubs' interest in Mehdi Benatia, which is no surprise given the quality of performance exhibited by the Moroccan centre-back.

Regardless, according to reports Man United have officially entered the race for Benatia, knocking elbows with the Premier League's financial kingpins Chelsea and Manchester City as they do so.

And several factors may ensure a bidding war ensues.

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Benatia was bought from Serie A rivals Udinese just last season for a fee of around £11 million and in just one season has already scored as many goals for Roma as his entire tally in 72 league appearances with the Udine outfit.

The 27-year-old defender has sparkled technically, too. A calm presence on the ball belies the intense physicality Benatia's 6ft3 1/2 in frame exudes and the Roma star managed to successfully execute 89% of his attempted passes in the league last term.

Additionally, Benatia is adept at the pressing game and, in 33 league appearances, intercepted 90 balls and cleared Roma's lines on 219 occasions.

3) Mats Hummels

In 2009, Bayern Munich's spectacular loss was Borussia Dortmund's gain when Mats Hummels, denied first-team opportunities with the Bavarians, completed his permanent transfer to the former.

By virtue of such poise and sophistication, along with perceptible intelligence both positionally and in challenging for the ball, the 25-year-old Germany international broke into the bracket of elite defenders during Dortmund's 2010/11 title-winning campaign; a season in which Hummels and Neven Subotic oversaw the league's finest defensive record.

He's pretty much been linked with the football world's most successful clubs ever since and, more recently, it was reported that Man United are to make Hummels their number one target this summer.

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It could be suggested that Hummels is better on the ball than without it but, if anything, his near flawless success in dribbling indicates this is simply because the bar has just been set so high through so much good work with possesion.

His success in contesting headers signals a combative edge for good measure, though, and it could be argued that having struggled with injuries over the years has lent Hummels a more fragile reputation than is entirely the case.

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Our Verdict - Benatia

A roiling cauldron of blood, sweat and tears stoked by boundless energy, alongside considerable skill and technique, Benatia perhaps just muscles out Hummels to the starring spot on this hypothetical slide-show.

He might not yet possess the European renown of his German counterpart, however the Roma star appears more robust and, if you read Walter Sabatini's £50 million price-tag as a bluff, could turn out to be the cheaper option.

Composed intensity as well as a player who can drive the ball forward from defense is what United's back-line is crying out for and, although Hummels is without a doubt one of the finest ball-playing defenders in the game, Benatia seems most like he could best inject the all-important degree of concentrated passion and urgency.

Of course, now it just remains to be seen which of the three reports linking each player to United is the strongest...

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