Ramos, Varane and the potential solutions to Manchester United's centre-back problems

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Raphael Varane Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Sergio Ramos Real Madrid Manchester United GFX
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has admitted that his side could be better at the back, with a move for a new defender a priority in the upcoming window

With the end of the season fast approaching, planning has begun at Manchester United for the next campaign and how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can take his team from title challengers to real contenders.

Manchester City look set to run away with the 2020-21 Premier League trophy but United’s results - and some of their performances - this season have shown that perhaps with a couple of tweaks they could have what it takes to properly push for top spot.

There are arguments for strengthening in a number of positions but, with Covid-19 affecting finances, the club will unlikely be able to fund every single one of their targets.

One of the main priorities is a centre-back. Victor Lindelof has come under fire for his performances in recent weeks and there is not enough depth in the position. 

Solskjaer admitted ahead of his side’s clash against Chelsea this weekend that he wants to see defensive improvements from the whole team.

“We know we have scored a lot of goals and of course we need to be a better team defensively,” Solskjaer said. “We have conceded too many goals so we need to improve on that and winning tighter games.”

It is understood, therefore, that United are in the market for a central defender this summer. Here, Goal analyses the names they’ve looked at in the past, a wild card and a few candidates for the future to potentially solve their defensive dilemmas.

Also considered are a couple of in-house solutions should United fail to get the deal done. 

  1. Jules Kounde - Sevilla
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    Jules Kounde - Sevilla

    Kounde is one of the hottest defensive prospects in Europe and it’s hardly surprising United are interested in the 22-year-old.

    Manchester City tried to land him last summer but ended getting up Ruben Dias instead after being put off by the price set by Sevilla. Afterwards, sporting director Monchi admitted that their price may have been inflated.

    It will be interesting to see what kind of bid might prove to be acceptable this summer. A compromise would have to be reached as United would not be willing to pay over the odds, especially in the current climate.

    Although Solskjaer is after a left-footed centre-back and Kounde is right-footed, he is comfortable on the left side and also fits the profile as a young, exciting player - the kind of player that the United boss wants to fill his side with.

    Another positive is that he is able to play right-back. United have been looking at right-backs to provide competition for Aaron Wan-Bissaka. If budgets become a problem and decisions have to be made over which positions to prioritise that could prove to be a benefit.

  2. David Carmo - Braga
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    David Carmo - Braga

    Portuguese defender Carmo is another who fits the profile as the kind of player Solskjaer is keen to have in his squad.

    The 21-year-old centre-back, who has already been likened to Virgil van Dijk, also fits the bill in terms of being left-footed. He would compliment the right-footed centre-backs Solskjaer already has at his disposal.

    Real Madrid are also believed to be keeping an eye on the Braga stopper, while he was briefly linked with Liverpool in the January window.

    Carmo is currently recovering from a bad ankle injury suffered two weeks ago which saw him leave the pitch in an ambulance.

    Nevertheless, he remains on Solskjaer’s watchlist.

  3. Ibrahima Konate - RB Leipzig
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    Ibrahima Konate - RB Leipzig

    Young Frenchman Ibrahima Konate is another hot prospect when it comes to centre-backs in Europe.

    The RB Leipzig defender has been linked with the majority of the big Premier League clubs and has been monitored by United.

    The 21-year-old has developed a good relationship with compatriot Dayot Upamecano and their success in Julian Nagelsmann's backline has led to interest from a variety of clubs.  

    With Upamecano already agreeing to join Bayern Munich in the summer, it is hard to see Leipzig letting the other key man in their defence leave in the same window.

    The fact that Konate has attracted attention from a number of clubs is even more striking given that he has missed a large chunk of this season through injury and has only started four times in the Bundesliga. 

  4. Raphael Varane - Real Madrid
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    Raphael Varane - Real Madrid

    Compared to the other, younger candidates, Raphael Varane is heading towards the veteran category at 27 years old. That would not be seen as a negative though with Solskjaer having such a young dressing room.

    The United boss has regularly spoken about the experience of older players helping to mould the younger generations and Varane has had plenty of experience at Real Madrid and also in winning the World Cup with France.

    A proven winner, he’s out of contract in the summer of 2022 and has yet to agree an extension which could see him move on in the next window.

    The United hierarchy are believed to be admirers and his key attributes would compliment captain Harry Maguire at the back.

  5. Pau Torres - Villarreal
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    Pau Torres - Villarreal

    Pau Torres has been impressing in La Liga with Villarreal and the 24-year-old is also left-footed, an attribute which Solskjaer favours.

    Real Madrid are also interested in a player with a release clause of €65 million (£57m/$78m) and he has already made his international debut for Spain.

    Homegrown Torres is good aerially, comfortable on the ball and would be also be a complimentary partner for Maguire.

  6. Dayot Upamecano - RB Leipzig
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    Dayot Upamecano - RB Leipzig

    Dayot Upamecano is not a name on United’s list any longer, after the Leipzig centre-back agreed a deal to move to Bayern Munich in the summer, but he is one who was certainly on there in the past.

    In their transfer plans, United always have a whole host of players who are discussed, scouted and monitored and Upamecano was one who slotted into the 'discussed' category.

    It is understood the club never made a formal attempt to challenge Bayern for the 22-year-old however and moved on from him last year.

  7. Tyrone Mings - Aston Villa
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    Tyrone Mings - Aston Villa

    Tyrone Mings, the 27-year-old England international, has some of the qualities that United are looking for.

    However, it’s understood that the Aston Villa centre-back is not currently close to the top when it comes to the list of targets for the next window, despite being of previous interest.

  8. Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid
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    Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid

    Sergio Ramos might well be described as the 'wildcard' of the list. 

    The Real Madrid legend has been linked to United so many times over the years and actually came close to joining when Louis van Gaal was in charge. With him being a free agent this summer, and with United being in the market for a centre-back, the rumours have already started to swirl.

    But Ramos, who turns 35 next month, does not fit the category of player that Solskjaer is after at all.

    Granted, United brought Edinson Cavani in on a short-term deal but Solskjaer is looking to build a team to compete for the long-term. He is not in an ideal world, looking for stop-gaps.

    There is also a warning sign that comes with pursuing any potential deal for Ramos in that it is believed he used United to land himself a better deal at Santiago Bernabeu back in 2015. 

  9. Teden Mengi - Manchester United Under-23s
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    Teden Mengi - Manchester United Under-23s

    An in-house solution - and one for the future - is ex-under-23s captain Teden Mengi, currently on loan at Wayne Rooney's Derby County.

    He made his Man Utd first-team debut in the Europa League against LASK last season and is a confident and comfortable leader at the back.

    He’s only made one start in the Championship so far on his loan to Pride Park and it’s likely another loan move next season would be more beneficial for the teenager before throwing him into the first-team environment at Old Trafford.

    He is highly unlikely to be a starter despite how well regarded he is by the club.

  10. Eric Bailly - Manchester United
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    Eric Bailly - Manchester United

    Eric Bailly might be classifield as another 'wildcard' option to solve Solskjaer's defensive issues.

    Should the financial situation dictate that the club spend their money on a player in a different position, or if United cannot strike the right deal for a defender, then Bailly could indeed be given another try. 

    The biggest problem with the Ivorian is his inability to stay fit. His pace, athleticism and all-round game make him a quality partner for Maguire and he has impressed when he has been given the chance this season.

    He has, however, made just 13 appearances in all competitions this season due to injury and Solskjaer's preference for Victor Lindelof.

    Now he’s back to fitness, he could prove why he should be considered to be in a first-choice centre back pairing.