José Mourinho may be focusing his attention on the Europa League in the final few weeks of the 2016/17 campaign, but he will still be keen to end an unwanted record when his Manchester United side travel to White Hart Lane on Sunday afternoon.
Last weekend’s 2-0 defeat by Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium was the fourth time the Red Devils have failed to score away from home against a top-six rival this term, and their upcoming showdown against Tottenham Hotspur is the last chance for United to right that wrong.
Their failure to find the back of the net in such games is a worry, but it has more to do with Mourinho’s tactics than a lack of attacking quality within the squad. Indeed, although a centre-forward could be on the Portuguese’s shopping list this summer after Zlatan Ibrahimović sustained a serious knee injury last month, United appear to be pretty well stocked in forward areas.
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It is at different story at the back, where reinforcements will be required when the window reopens. On the face of it, that may sound like a strange conclusion to draw from United’s season: the Red Devils have undoubtedly had their problems in the Premier League this term, but Tottenham (23) are the only side to have conceded fewer goals than Mourinho’s men (27) at the time of writing, with even champions-elect Chelsea having shipped 29.
A quick glance at the table, then, would seem to suggest that United’s issues lie at the other end of the field.
There is certainly some merit in that argument, but when it comes to the task of purchasing individuals to slot into the starting XI next year, Mourinho will almost certainly start with the defence. Antonio Valencia has arguably been the club’s player of the year and should continue at right-back, while Eric Bailly has, for the most part, been very impressive at centre-half.
Doubts remain about Matteo Darmian, Phil Jones, Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo (although the Argentinian has been much improved this season) and Daley Blind, however, and there are clearly improvements that can be made in that area of the pitch.
Marquinhos the man for the job?
Paris Saint-Germain centre-back Marquinhos is one man who rumoured to be a Manchester United transfer target, with recent reports in the press claiming that the Brazil international could cost around £55 million.
The French giants will be loath to lose one of their most talented players, but a transfer away from the Parc des Princes is a distinct possibility given that Marquinhos only has two years left to run on his current contract.
After only a handful of senior appearances for Corinthians in 2012, the defender’s first club in Europe were Roma, who paid an initial fee of €1.5 million for his services.
It proved to be one of the best deals the Italian outfit have pulled off in recent years: although Marquinhos only played 30 times for the capital club in all competitions, Roma were able to make a €30 million profit on him by accepting a €31.4 million bid from PSG in July 2013.
Marquinhos hit the ground running in France, scoring his first ever goal as a professional footballer on his debut for Les Rouge-et-Bleu against Olympiacos. He had to remain patient in his first season at the club – he managed just 17 starts in Ligue 1 in 2013/14 – but demonstrated his quality whenever he took to the field.
Marquinhos became an even more important figure the following season, and has gone from strength to strength ever since; PSG may have struggled under the guidance of Unai Emery this term, but the contributions of the 22-year-old should not be discounted.
With Monaco on the verge of securing their first championship crown since 2000, this will probably be a summer of change at PSG. Marquinhos’ age and ability means he will be an attractive proposition for big clubs across Europe – Barcelona have also been sniffing around in the last few months – which is exactly why United need to move fast and secure a deal as soon as possible.
Marquinhos is a fantastic all-round defender who is ideally suited to life at a club the size of United, where it just as important to demonstrate quality in possession as out of it.
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As well as being comfortable on the ball and an excellent distributor of it, Marquinhos is also perfectly competent when it comes to more traditional defensive attributes: he is rarely caught out of position, is a fine reader of the game and is a difficult player to get past in one-on-one situations, while his speed and mobility are extra assets that would be of value to United.
Emery may have called Marquinhos and Marco Verratti “the young soul of PSG” in September, but the club’s failure to take the next step in the Champions League could persuade the former to seek pastures new in the coming weeks and months.
His current manager is certainly a fan, calling him a “top” and “complete” player in the same interview with El Pais earlier this season, as well as praising his personality: “he listens, his attitude is as intense as his ability… on the pitch, he applied himself and asks ‘boss, what do you need of me?'”
Such a mentality will no doubt appeal to Mourinho, who has criticised many of his players for supposedly doing the exact opposite at Old Trafford this season.
With the Portuguese eyeing improvements to his squad ahead of a potential Premier League title challenge next year, Marquinhos should be the first player he targets.