Manchester United’s defensive issues have been clear since the new season began; and while world-class centre-backs proved impossible to come by despite the money available to Louis van Gaal this summer, there was one perfect addition who could have been brought to the club for nothing.
It would not have been a long-term solution, but bringing Toby Alderweireld on loan from Atletico Madrid before Southampton did just that could have saved United a whole host of problems this campaign.
Following the departures of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, United needed to strengthen at the back, but despite the addition of Marcos Rojo, an injury crisis and the suspension of Tyler Blackett meant the Argentine partnered debutant Paddy McNair at the heart of the club’s defence this weekend.
Van Gaal would not have envisaged losing Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to injury so soon, but the simple fact is there was an oversight in United’s transfer plans.
While Angel Di Maria was certainly needed to bring pace and quality to United’s attack, and Radamel Falcao on loan should never be turned down, a move for Alderweireld would have given van Gaal’s defence more experience and additional depth.
At 25, Alderweireld has over 200 club appearances along with 37 caps for Belgium. He also brings assurance at the back and an attacking threat at the opposite end as his 17 club goals to date testify.
And most importantly, he was available, as was proved when Southampton brought him in for the season.
He has featured twice for the Saints so far, helping his side keep a clean-sheet against Newcastle United and playing his part in a 2-1 victory over Queens Park Rangers, when his defence was only breached by a wonder-strike from Charlie Austin.
In short, while United played the loan market well by bringing in Falcao, they could have done even better had they also moved for Alderweireld.
That would have given van Gaal the chance to further assess his defensive options, counter against any injury or disciplinary issues and spend the next 12 months working out who to sign next summer.