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With everyone engrossed in Manchester United's hunt for a midfielder, Brendon Netto analyzes their defensive target, Ezequiel Garay..

 Brendon Netto
 COMMENT | England
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Another summer and another embarrassment in the transfer market for Manchester United. After a good month and a half of courting Thiago Alcantara, Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich swept him away in a matter of days. While David Moyes has swiftly turned his attention to Cesc Fabregas, he’ll have one eye on the more likely acquisition of Ezequiel Garay from Benfica.

Most are either focused on the gaping hole in United’s midfield or minding the Wayne Rooney fiasco which most recently dragged Juan Mata into the picture as well. However, the club’s first major signing this summer could well be in central defense, an area which despite being troublesome for United in recent times, hasn’t attracted much attention this summer.

Sir Alex Ferguson began the pursuit of Garay last season in earnest and United look set to see the move through. While a central midfielder takes precedence over every other position, an established centre-back may play a big part in solving the defensive problems from last season and put them in a better position to win games even if they miss out in recruiting some of their more attack-minded targets.

United’s frail defense last season constantly pegged them back in games and they needed the full force of their attack to bail them out on every occasion. Fortifying their back four may be a good idea as they prepare for what promises to be their most challenging title defense yet especially with Ferguson missing at the helm.

On the surface, the red half of Manchester isn’t exactly lacking in centre-backs. In fact, Old Trafford is home to no less than five first team central defenders and that’s excluding the young and promising Michael Keane who was on loan to Leicester City last season but looks set to stake his claim ahead of this campaign.

However, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are past their prime while Chris Smalling and Phil Jones haven’t come of age yet and Jonny Evans still hasn’t established himself as first-choice. Garay will turn 27 in October which means he’s in his prime and could be United’s immediate solution instead of having to waiting on Smalling and Jones. He’s young and fit enough to play almost every game, his pace hasn’t deserted him and he has sufficient experience to be a leader in the back line.

Moreover, United’s defense has been plagued by injury in the last couple of seasons with the likes of Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Darren Fletcher having to serve as emergency defenders at times. The hallmark of championship-winning sides is usually a fixed and reliable back four but United haven’t even maintained a steady central defensive partnership over the past few seasons, let alone an entire back line.

Garay on the other hand rarely misses a game and could bring stability and consistency to United’s defense. The table below depicts his amount of playing time for club and country when compared to that of the United defenders over the last two seasons.

Player Age Games Minutes
Rio Ferdinand 34 72 6013
Nemanja Vidic 31 34 2812
Ezequiel Garay 26 98 8783
Jonny Evans 25 77 6221
Chris Smalling 23 58 4258
Phil Jones 21 72 5263

Playing time for club and country over the last two seasons

 

Garay’s foremost talents are his ability to read the game and make interceptions. He is not one to jump into a challenge and adopts a more calm approach to defending. He particularly excels when he has a more aggressive central defensive partner like he does at Benfica in Luisao.

Theoretically speaking, he could make a very good partner for Vidic when the Serbian is fit. The United skipper takes no prisoners when he defends his lines and Garay’s cultured approach could compliment the 31 year old’s style.

Furthermore, it could be beneficial to add a South American flavour, and the technical ability to go with it, to United’s central defense which is predominantly British. He’s comfortable on the ball and his crisp passing has often made him the starting point for Benfica’s attacks while he’s also adept at carrying the ball forward. His 2006-07 campaign with Racing Santander is testament to his technical gifts when he scored 9 goals in 31 league appearances.

However, the Argentine is not exactly flawless. There’s no guarantee that he would be a hit at Old Trafford and his time at Real Madrid is primarily the reason for that. Garay never made the grade at the Bernabeu which leaves a question mark over his ability to perform on the big stage despite his significant growth during his time at Benfica.

His Europa League outing against Newcastle United in April wasn’t particularly reassuring. Even though Benfica drew 1-1 and advanced to the next round, Garay looked uncomfortable against Papiss Cisse at times and it was his mix-up with Nemanja Matic that led to the striker’s goal.

Nevertheless, the Argentine could be worth the gamble as his overall performance at Benfica has been impressive. With Garay at the heart of their defense, Benfica conceded only 20 goals in the league last season. However, they narrowly missed out on winning the league, the domestic and the Europa League so the defender will be keen to taste glory and Old Trafford has always basked in it.

 

Could Garay succeed at United? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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