Rebuilding the Red Wall: Assessing United’s Defensive Transfer Targets 

Manchester United’s defence is in desperate need of an overhaul. The Red Devils’ 2023/24 season was plagued with injuries across the pitch, but no area was more affected by absentees than the back four.



Already Raphael Varane and Jonny Evans have departed, and either Harry Maguire or Victor Lindelof will likely be saying their goodbyes this summer. Tyrell Malacia didn’t feature for a single minute of the 2023/24 season, and United know by now that they can’t depend on Luke Shaw to stay injury-free for a full season.


If they are to avoid a repeat of last year – where they recorded their worst-ever Premier League finish and were embarrassingly knocked out of the Champions League group stage – the defence needs serious investment. United potentially need to sign at least one player in each of the back four positions, and below, we assess the suitability of the names linked so far.


Right Centre-Back


United’s number one priority needs to be finding a suitable long-term partner for Lisandro Martinez. This needs to be someone tall and strong in aerial duels, someone who is a good channel defender, can be relied on in possession, and can be the cat to Martinez’s dog.



The most heavily-linked name so far is Lille’s Leny Yoro. The 18-year-old sensation would be a fantastic signing, and a brilliant long-term investment. His strengths would make him an ideal partner for Martinez, and he is reportedly available for an extremely reasonable £51m.


The problem is, all signs point to him going to Real Madrid. While he should be the clear number one target, it will be difficult for United to convince the Frenchman to turn down a move to the Champions League winners and the opportunity to play alongside fellow countryman Kylian Mbappe, in favour of joining the side that finished eighth in the Premier League.


A deal for Nice’s Jean-Clair Todibo could be an easy one to do thanks to the INEOS connection, and according to some reports, he could be available for as little as £20m. He is fantastic on the ball, has incredible pace, and at 23 years old is a player for the long-term. However, stylistically, he adopts a similarly aggressive defending style to Martinez, which could make for a slightly unbalanced partnership.


Jean-Clair Todibo Shining at the Allianz Riviera for OGC Nice


Crystal Palace’s Marc Guehi and Aston Villa’s Ezri Konsa both bring the benefit of having ample Premier League experience – something that INEOS are reportedly keen to target in the transfer window. However, there are big question marks over their suitability as partners to Martinez, with neither being particularly strong in the air. Fulham’s Tosin Adarabioyo would have been a very shrewd signing on a free transfer, even considering the reportedly significant wage demands, but United ultimately missed out to Chelsea.


Two names from the Portuguese Primeira Liga have been linked – Sporting’s Ousmane Diomande, and Benfica’s Antonio Silva. On paper, Diomande looks to be a near-perfect compliment to Martinez, but he could end up being a rather expensive gamble. Most of his time at Sporting has been spent playing as a wide centre-back in a back three, and it would be a big ask for him to make the simultaneous transition to a back four, and to Premier League football.


Player Analysis: Ousmane Diomande


As for Silva, similarly to other names on this list, there are question marks over how dominant he is in the air, and it is essential that whoever United sign in this position can replace Varane’s ability to defend the box and defend set-pieces. Bayer Leverkusen’s Edmond Tapsoba is also rumoured to be of interest, but he too has primarily featured in a back-three, and is limited in his ability to regularly win aerial duels. 


Left Centre-Back


One of United’s biggest problems last season, with the injuries to Martinez and Shaw, was the absence of a natural left-footer on the left side of the pitch. In fact, Martinez is the only left-footed centre-back in United’s squad, and as a result, finding a backup for the Argentine is a must for the club this summer. 


Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite is the most hotly-linked name at the moment, and is probably the best player on this list. Branthwaite has proved himself to be a fantastic all-round defender under the management of Sean Dyche, and during his time at Everton and PSV – where he was on loan last season – he has demonstrated his quality on the ball, dominance in the air, and a capability to cover ground quickly.



Branthwaite is surprisingly fast considering he is 6’5”, and at just 21 years old, he could very well stay at United for more than a decade. The problem is he would be incredibly expensive, with Everton reportedly quoting as much as £80m for his services.


With United needing to be careful with their spending this summer, the question is: should the club be spending that much money on a player who, most of the time, will be a backup to Lisandro Martinez? Additionally, with several of Europe’s top clubs sniffing around Branthwaite, would he be interested in joining a club where he isn’t a guaranteed starter? 


Other Premier League names linked are Wolves’ Max Kilman and Nottingham Forest’s Murillo. Kilman will tick several boxes for INEOS as an Englishman with plenty of Premier League experience. He has built a reputation as an excellent ball player, and as Wolves’ club captain, he is recognised for his leadership credentials.



His ceiling probably isn’t as high as other options, and at 27 years old he is a little older, but he would potentially be available for a much more reasonable fee than Branthwaite, and would represent good, experienced quality in the squad.


Murillo is potentially a more exciting addition – his jinky runs through midfield and numerous attempts to score from his own half are the sorts of things we’re used to seeing from young Brazilian defenders – and with Forest needing to sell players before the end of June to balance their books, he could be available for lower than market value. However, this could still be a pretty hefty fee, and his profile is probably not the all-rounder United need as Martinez backup.


Another Sporting defender that’s been heavily linked with a move to Old Trafford is Goncalo Inacio, but there are similar question marks over his suitability too. He would be expensive (approximately £50m), and like Branthwaite, would expect to start regularly. He also isn’t particularly strong in the air, and he (like his teammate Diomande) is more accustomed to playing in a back three.


Player Analysis: Goncalo Inacio




Last season, Diogo Dalot was one of United’s few bright sparks. The Portuguese won the Players’ Player of the Year Award, and has established himself as a guaranteed starter. The club would likely only target a right-back if Aaron Wan-Bissaka were to move on.


The most heavily-linked name in this position is Bayer Leverkusen’s Jeremie Frimpong, who has had an extremely impressive season for the German domestic double winners, and reportedly has a £34m release clause active this summer. There can be no doubt that he is a fantastic player, with 16 league goal contributions last season, but he is a far too attack-minded right back for what United need.



Inter’s Denzel Dumfries is another name that has been linked with a move to United several times before, but the same issues apply here. He too is primarily an attacking wing-back, and has question marks over his defensive reliability.




Left-back is possibly United’s most injury-plagued position, and as a result, the club are reportedly keen to sign a reinforcement who is more physically reliable than Luke Shaw or Tyrell Malacia.


In the Premier League, Wolves’ Rayan Ait-Nouri impressed last season but is likely to cost more than United will be prepared to spend. Antonee Robinson at Fulham has demonstrated his quality both defensively and offensively, and he could be an option for a smaller price tag.


Milos Kerkez: Bournemouth’s New Hungarian Left Back


However, Bournemouth’s Milos Kerkez has been more-reliably linked with a move to Old Trafford in recent weeks, after his impressive debut season at Bournemouth. In his short spell on the South Coast, he has shown himself to be an impressively physical and aggressive defender, and a technically proficient ball-player.


Kerkez is just 20 years old, and his profile makes him a near-perfect backup for Shaw. Nice’s Melvin Bard is another player who could be easily accessed, and he would represent a relatively low-cost and high-potential addition as a squad player.


Another option could be Girona’s Miguel Gutierrez. A product of Real Madrid’s academy system, he was crucial to Girona securing an impressive third-place finish in La Liga, recording seven league assists and proving himself to be a devastating attacking threat.



There are, however, question marks over his ability as a defender, and even if United were to make a move, they might face stiff competition for his signature. Arsenal are reportedly interested, and although Real Madrid are chasing down Alphonso Davies, if that pursuit fails, they reportedly have an £8m buy-back clause in Gutierrez’s contract.




Once INEOS have made their decision on the managerial position at Old Trafford, the number one priority has to be rebuilding United’s defence.


Manchester United Must Now Decide Whether to Stick With Erik ten Hag or Sack Him


Identifying the right long-term partner for Lisandro Martinez is paramount, and the search for backup for the Argentine is equally pressing. The potential departure of Aaron Wan-Bissaka would necessitate the recruitment of a new right-back, and reinforcing the left-back position is crucial for United to find some level of consistency.


Ultimately, a massive defensive overhaul is on the cards for the Red Devils, and pulling off the right signings in these key areas will be the first big test for INEOS’ new-look Manchester United recruitment team.


By: Jake Lane / @jakerslane

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Matt McNulty / Getty Images