Top five: Man United players who split opinion

Date published: Wednesday 15th March 2017 8:24

Jesse Lingard

Pros: The academy graduate is not one of Jose Mourinho’s most gifted attacking players, but in the absence of anyone else, Lingard will always do a solid, seven-out-of-10 job anywhere across the forward line. Unless United are at Wembley. Then he’s guaranteed a goal and a trophy.

Lingard offers a more direct approach on the right wing and also through the middle. When Henrikh Mkhitaryan missed the EFL Cup final, Mourinho chose Lingard instead of Juan Mata to play centrally because he can drive forward and commit defenders. Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal all want him, so he must be pretty useful, right?

Cons: “In a cut-throat world, he is not good enough for Manchester United, or at least not where Manchester United want to be,” wrote Matt Stead after one of Lingard’s poorer performances, in the FA Cup win at Blackburn.

There is certainly an argument for the second part of that statement. At 24 years old, Lingard is hardly a rookie and regardless of his work ethic and adaptability, he is never likely to achieve the standards that are eventually expected of Pogba, Rashford and Martial. Lingard may have notched up three goals at Wembley in the last year but he hasn’t managed to score in the Premier League for over 13 months.

 

Marouane Fellaini

Pros: Mourinho has labelled Fellaini a “very important player” on a number of occasions this term, and it is true that the Belgian offers a physical presence that few others in his squad can match. The fact he has been trusted by the club’s last three managers, despite receiving regular stick from his own fans, suggests he has big enough balls to cope with being a Manchester United player.

The manager often deploys Fellaini from the bench when United are under the cosh defensively, while he also seems to be the focus of Mourinho’s Plan B in an attacking sense. His very presence tends to spread panic throughout opposing defences and there is no better chest in football…

Cons: But Fellaini’s feet are generally ineffective and for a big physical presence, he wins surprisingly few quality headers. He looks cumbersome, he’s often clumsy, he’s uncomfortable on the ball and not mobile enough to get around and win it back. Played as one of the two holding midfielders, he can neither start attacks for United or stop the opposition.

 

Marcos Rojo

Pros: The Argentina defender has improved tremendously under Mourinho, having been prone to error and injury under Louis van Gaal. As a left-footer, Rojo offers balance to any central defensive partnership, and alongside Phil Jones, the pair looked extremely comfortable next to each other. He can fill in at left-back, but the 26-year-old is far more capable at the heart of the defence.

Rojo also has a competitive edge that United fans appreciate – who doesn’t love a nasty b*stard in their own team? He went toe-to-toe with Diego Costa and rattled the Chelsea striker like few others have managed this season.

Cons: Despite his improvement, there remains the suspicion that Rojo will never reach the standards required of a top class centre-half. As a squad player, the former Sporting Lisbon defender is a handy player to keep around, but Mourinho is unlikely to take United back to the very top with Rojo as a first-choice centre-half. And though he can do a job at left back, it’s often a less-than-satisfactory one.

Plus, any man who does this to toast probably deserves a wide berth…

 

Matteo Darmian

Pros:  Primarily, versatility. The Italy defender can play anywhere across the back four. With Antonio Valencia bombing forward, Mourinho likes his left-back to offer more cover and solidity on the other flank (are you listening, Luke Shaw?) and Darmian offers just that.

Cons: How many jacks of all trades does Mourinho need? In his first press conference as United boss, he declared himself to be “a manager that likes specialists, not multi-functional players” but the make-up of his defence often contradicts that statement.

Though not as good as winger-turned-defender Valencia, Darmian is a reasonable right-back, a ropey centre-half and a bang-average left-back. The 27-year-old looks highly likely to return to Italy this summer and, though he’s hardly disgraced himself at United, he won’t be missed either.

 

Phil Jones

Pros: The 25-year-old has started 13 of United’s 17-match unbeaten run in the Premier League and finally proved what he can do with a decent run of games. Sir Alex Ferguson did him no favours when he said Jones could become United’s “greatest ever player” and the England international has suffered ever since due to his versatility and injury woes.

But with a settled run in the team, Jones proved himself to be one of United’s best centre-halves.

Cons: Jones can’t be trusted to stay fit long enough to be relied upon as a starting centre-back. Like Wayne Rooney, he always needs a few games to find his rhythm, during which time Jones is usually far from the assured presence required at the back. Despite showing his worth before he was injured against Hull last month, he returned after four weeks on the sidelines and looked panicked and flustered against Bournemouth, when he conceded a penalty which cost United a couple of points.

 

 

Ian Watson

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