Pitchside

Has Rojo fixed Man United’s defensive woes?

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In the lull between the World Cup and the new Premier League season, Manchester United were linked with moves for centre-backs Mats Hummels and Mehdi Benatia. On Wednesday evening, however, the former champions secured the signature of Marcos Rojo from Sporting Club, but some may feel he was not quite the household name supporters were pining for.

United’s opening day 2-1 defeat to Swansea highlighted several defensive flaws which needed addressing sooner rather than later. Tyler Blackett, making his top-flight debut in the loss, looked out of his depth against the Welsh outfit, while it was clear Chris Smalling and Phil Jones required a more accomplished performer alongside them in the three-man defence.

At 24, Rojo is not the most seasoned defender in world football, but on the back of an impressive World Cup, highlighted in his WhoScored.com rating (7.52), the tournament will have provided him with valuable experience. An Argentina side that was expected to ship goals at Brazil 2014 conceded just four times this summer as they reached the World Cup showpiece, only to fall at the final hurdle.

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Rojo played a crucial role in their progression to the final. Only four players made more tackles and interceptions combined than Rojo (35) at the 2014 World Cup. Making six ppearances in Brazil, Rojo averaged a remarkable 5.8 tackles and interceptions per game, although this is a small sample size.

Compared to the current centre-back options available to Van Gaal, that return is a marked improvement on Jonny Evans (2.6), Smalling (2.8), Jones (4.6) and Blackett (3.7) when analysing the quartet’s performances over the past year in English football. It is also worth taking into account that Rojo played left-back at the World Cup, which will only add to his value given he can play either at centre-back or left wing-back in Van Gaal’s 3-4-1-2 formation.

One concern, however, is Rojo’s indiscipline. Only Thiago Silva (three) picked up more yellow cards than the former Sporting defender (two) at the 2014 World Cup. Rash in the challenge, Rojo committed an average of 1.2 fouls per game at Brazil 2014, a rate greater than Evans (0.05), Smalling (0.8), Jones (1.1) and Blackett (0.8) since last August.

The Argentine’s impassioned approach to defending may be cause for concern for United, especially without a natural leader in the backline and in a defence crying out for a calming influence, Rojo may not be exactly what is needed. United can't afford to give their opponents any assistance at the moment, and giving away free-kicks in dangerous positions won't help matters.

It goes without saying that Rojo is not the standard of defender the club would have hoped to sign. The Argentine is undeniably a good player, but United require an experienced head at the heart of the backline, especially with Van Gaal deploying a three-man defence. Rojo’s versatility will benefit the team, but if he is the only centre-back signed this summer, United may struggle to secure the return to Champions League football they so desperately crave.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

By Ben McAleer - @BenMcAleer1

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