With United actively pursuing a new centre-half this summer, despite already possessing five players in that position, opportunities for defenders at Old Trafford are going to be limited. With Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, Marcus Rojo, Chris Smalling, and Phil Jones already competing for just two positions, another singing will make United so heavily-invested in that area, it makes you wonder if Mourinho is considering switching formation to a back three.
However, although he has experimented with that that system several times, he clearly prefers a traditional back four, and it would be a surprise if he changed now. What that means, unfortunately, is that the opportunities afforded to some of United young defenders will be at a premium, which is a shame when you consider the huge potential of Timothy Fosu-Mensah.
Fosu-Mensah has been around United’s first team squad for 3 years, and, now 20 years old, will be hoping to earn more playing time at Old Trafford. He made 10 appearances in 2015-16, and 11 in 2016-17, with 8 of those in the Premier League. He quickly became a fans favourite, with his pace, physical presence, combative nature, and ability on the ball; a young player of genuine promise and quality. Mourinho recognised he needed more game time, and loaned him out to Crystal Palace last season, where he made a total of 24 appearances. He may have hoped to have played more in the centre – he operated a lot as a right-back – but he isn’t resistant to different positions, and is equally happy to play in midfield as he is in defence. That versatility and positive attitude make him a valuable member of the squad, along with the lingering suspicion that, given an extended run in the team, he could develop into a special player.
While he slipped out of the first team picture towards the end of the season at Crystal Palace, he enjoyed a successful year: he won man of the match awards, won over the fans, and was rated by Leroy Sane as the toughest opponent he faced all season, admitting the Dutch defender had him “under control”.
Mourinho is not known as a great promoter of youth, but Fosu-Mensah, if he is not loaned out again, is the sort of character who will try to force his way into the squad. As he stated: “I do not want to hear that I am young and that my time is still coming, I want to reach the top as quickly as possible.”
Even if he cannot secure a position in centre of defence, he might find opportunities at right back. Valencia is 33 and regressed last season, offering solidity but little else, each year robbing him of the drive and attacking instincts that made him a threat going forward. As Mourinho noted recently too, injuries are starting to catch up with him. Fosu-Mensah could at least match his impact, and likely surpass it, as well as offering an exciting long-term option.
Valencia has been made captain for next season but that does not guarantee his place in the team, especially as the season progresses: last year, Mourinho appointed Carrick as captain and Herrera vice-captain, yet neither player started many games. Diego Dalot has been signed, of course, and will provide good competition for the role once he overcomes injury. Fosu-Mensah, though, hungry and ambitious, should not be ruled out making that position his own.