Opinion: Centre-back pairings need time
When explaining the magnificence of his partnership with Steve Bruce last week, legendary Manchester United defender Gary Pallister insisted the main factor was continuity and consistency.
In another fascinating episode of the UTD Podcast, Pallister - our record buy when he joined us from Middlesbrough in 1989 - made a pertinent point. When he was trying to find his feet, his eventual partner Bruce was injured and absent from games including the infamous 5-1 derby-day defeat to Manchester City. However, with time, the pair became permanent fixtures at the heart of the defence.
Their appearance records were extraordinary - both defenders topped 50 games in 1990/91 and again in 1991/92 and were ever-presents in the following season when United were crowned champions for the first time in 26 years. In the Double-winning term of 1993/94, they each racked up a remarkable 61 starts, with Bruce even managing another appearance as a substitute! A year later, Pallister (58 games) and Bruce (48) were still very much the rocks at the back.
It was a similar story for another famous centre-back axis at United, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Their partnership took time to flourish, after the Serbian arrived in the winter of the 2005/06 season. By the time of the Champions League triumph in 2008, Rio was making his 51st appearance of the season in Moscow, Vidic his 45th. The following year, it was Vida who made the most outings (55), with Ferdinand on 43.
The point is it took a number of minutes together on the pitch and hours more on the training ground to learn each other's game and play in tandem.
There is still much work to be done in this respect for Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof. Maguire who, like Pallister, arrived for a big fee, was always going to attract criticism in the early days of his United career for that reason. Yet he has impressed and has already been named permanent captain after Ashley Young's departure.
With durability that brings Bruce to mind, he has everything in his locker to become a firm favourite, and key performer, for many years to come.
Maguire and Lindelof are being allowed time to develop their partnership by manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
In previous campaigns, the Reds have tended to rotate a number of different centre-backs, and even play midfielders in the role on occasion.
This season, the two highest appearance-makers, in all competitions so far, are Maguire (34) and Lindelof (30). The new skipper is an ever-present in the Premier League but was sorely missed in the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Manchester City, when the Reds were beaten 3-1. Lindelof sat out the 2-0 loss to Burnley but, when the two have been in the side, they have kept clean sheets in six of their last seven matches together.
The goalless draw with Wolves was the third shut-out on the spin and, if you go back further, their clean-sheet record is seven of the last nine games.
Although Ole sometimes selects three central defenders, the fundamentals of the effectiveness of the combination of Maguire and Lindelof remain, and they will only get better with time.
This winter break will enable more work to be done in learning to complement each other to an even greater degree, as United look to rely on the defence with challenges at home and abroad on the horizon.
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