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'United may have to bite the bullet with Harry Maguire' | Kenny Cunningham

Manchester United's loss to Crystal Palace on Saturday again highlighted defensive deficiencies t...

'United may have to bite the b...

'United may have to bite the bullet with Harry Maguire' | Kenny Cunningham

Manchester United's loss to Crystal Palace on Saturday again highlighted defensive deficiencies that plagued the side early last season.

Although a surging finish to the campaign led by Bruno Fernandes papered over some weaknesses, Saturday's 3-1 loss again brings existential questions to the fore for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team.

The pace of Jeffrey Schlupp was enough to escape Victor Lindelof and drive a low cross into the box for Andros Townsend's first goal and the Swedish international was again caught out for the final goal when his intervening foot failed to stop Wilfred Zaha from turning away and powering the ball in from outside the box.

While a lot of commentary on United's defensive vulnerabilities has focused on recruiting a stronger centre-half partner for Harry Maguire, Kenny Cunningham joined Monday's OTB AM and argued that United may need to accept that both Maguire and Lindelof are not what the club need.

That is unlikely to happen before the end of the season, but Cunningham believes it may be the only way United build a title-challenging back four.

"Defensively it was probably as bad as I've seen them play," the former Republic of Ireland captain said of the Crystal Palace loss.

"We know there are issues there, in terms of strength in the back four.

"People say that you need a good centre-back to play alongside Harry Maguire – absolutely. Possibly even strengthen cover in the full-back positions – absolutely. But after that defensive performance yesterday, it's the first time I've looked at him and thought, you know what, they might have to be braver here.

maguire Manchester United's Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof during a Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

"That was the first time I got a sense watching that United back four that it may not just be another centre-half to play alongside Maguire [that United need], it may be a complete overhaul.

"It might take a different manager to come into the football club to tear things apart from a defensive point of view and start again with two top-class centre-halves and have a top class partnership."

Long a fan of Maguire's ability on the ball and initiative to bring possession into midfield, Cunningham now thinks his frailties supersede those positives.

"As good as he is at ball-playing ability, being dominant in both boxes aerially, it's become more and more obvious the higher Man United go up the pitch, the more questions he's being asked, to defend in one-v-one positions and turning and running those channels in behind.

"It's a real struggle for him because of his physical make-up. And it's cost United goals over the last season. It hasn't been spoken about too much. It's been, 'Yeah, he made a mistake but he's our leader, our captain, he's our way forward.'

"But the more mistakes that he continues to make, the more the argument is going to grow – even amongst Manchester United fans – that, 'you know what we may have to go again, we may have to bite the bullet with Harry Maguire and go and get two centre-halves with a different type of DNA.'

According to Cunningham, Solskjaer needs Ed Woodward to recruit centre-halves that will have the pace that enables them to clear out long ball counter attacks.

"Good athletes, powerful runners, good in one-v-one situations, knowing you can afford to send your full-backs up and know you are not going to get caught out in counter attacks with a Zaha or Townsend running in behind because you have centre-halves that have the pace to run in behind.

"They may not be the best ball players in the world, they may not be at Harry's level in terms of their productivity, playing the ball forward into midfield, playing the ball higher up the pitch but you can trust them out of possession in terms of their ability to defend that half of the pitch."

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Read more about

Harry Maguire Kenny Cunningham Manchester United Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Otb Am Victor Lindelof