Manchester United are potentially heading in to the new season with six full international central defenders in their squad. Prior to recent rumours Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones were set to battle it out for a position in central defence alongside Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic, however that intensive training ground battle will intensify further with the expected arrival of Ezequiel Garay from Benfica.
Now Moyes has Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic looking to extend their playing careers in a similar manner when he starts pinning team sheets up on the wall at Carrington. However questions must exist as to whether this is the best pairing to face the style of attacking units forming at Chelsea, Manchester City and on the continent. Speed and movement are the new enemy, not size and power.
Ferdinand, 35, recently signed a one-year deal whilst Vidic, 31, appears to be recovering his defensive form having recovered from a lenghty lay-off.
Phil Jones has received rave reviews of his potential, being likened none-other to Bryan Robson and Duncan Edwards - nether of whom made their name in defence, so maybe Moyes is back to a five. Jones won’t have too much to prove to Moyes, though the sooner somebody decides which position is really his best the better - especially if Sir Alex's prediction that Phil Jones could become the best Manchester United player ever is to come true.
Smalling has shown less versatility, even though he can operate at full-back, whilst Evans has been seen as Ferdinand’s natural successor with his reading of the game and ability to build from the back. Evans simply needs opportunities to build upon what was an excellent season.
Players develop at different rates, and there's no doubting that early season form could see Moyes rotationg to find his preferred partnership, all of which could still lead to Smalling and Evans becoming United’s central pairing as Sir Alex once predicted.
Back in February Sir Alex said “Jonny is only 25 but he’s emerged in the last year as a real top defender. His form has been fantastic. If you can get consistency off young players you are on the right track and Jonny has shown great consistency.”
Smalling’s biggest challenge is proving that he is not one of those players who are going to be seen as injury-prone, as his time at Old Trafford has been beset by groin and foot problems. A metatarsal injury ruined the start to his season with him making his first appearance in November.
So, the question is which United pairing will prove to be the most successful? This editor for one would like to see Evans and Jones given a chance to develop a long-lasting partnership, however with six possible defenders yielding 15 different combintations that chance will be difficult to come by.