Currently the best defender in the Premier League, and the only serious rival to N’Golo Kante and Dimitri Payet for the very hypothetical ‘signing of the season’ award. Those three wonderful men can arrange themselves on the podium in whichever suggestive pose they see fit.
With no disrespect intended (a phrase after which disrespect is always given), Alderweireld is the one that got away. He was part of a Southampton defence that conceded fewer goals than all but one team last season, and was available for a fee of £11.5m. Tottenham landed their man, and he’s promptly been ruddy brilliant again. It is now they who have the best defence; it’s no coincidence.
Eliaquim Mangala, Nicolas Otamendi, Marcos Rojo, Mateo Darmian, Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno, Baba Rahman, Filipe Luis, Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers. All are defenders signed in the last two years by Premier League clubs who could probably have tempted Alderweireld. All were signed for higher transfer fees, some for more than twice the price. Go and think about what you did and come back when you’re ready to say sorry.
A sad indictment of Manchester United’s right-back situation, or a compliment to Walker’s improvement over the last year? The answer probably lies somewhere in between.
Darmian’s form has improved over the last two months, but in truth it couldn’t have got much worse. He’s actually performed better when forced into left-back and centre-back by United’s injury problems. Darmian is also – and my brain struggled to compute this fact – older than Walker.
Darmian, Ashley Young, Guillermo Varela, Antonio Valencia, Paddy McNair and Donald Love have all started games at right-back for United this season. On current form, Walker trumps them all.
Manchester United may well still have England’s captain in their squad, but the club’s effect on the England team is reducing all the time. Michael Carrick and Ashley Young are not young enough, Phil Jones not fit enough and Jesse Lingard not good enough.
In March 2001, United equalled Arsenal’s 1934 record when they provided seven players present during England’s 3-1 victory over Albania. Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Andy Cole, Wes Brown and Teddy Sheringham all played in the victory. United didn’t just possess the spine of the England national team, they had the muscles and skin too. Fast forward to the latest squad, and Chris Smalling was United’s sole representative.
Instead it is Tottenham (with five players) who are the leaders of this new England, and none more so than our boy wonder. In the space of eight months, Alli has made his Premier League debut, scored seven league goals including a Goal of the Season contender, made his England Under-21 debut, made his European debut, made his England senior debut, scored his first England goal, put himself in contention for the Euro 2016 squad and subsequently made himself a fixture not only in Roy Hodgson’s squad but the starting XI.
Liverpool have been derided for their indecision on signing Alli, but they are not the only guilty party. Manchester United’s scouting network may spread further and wider than any other in the land, but they let Alli slip through the net. What they wouldn’t give for some of that feel-good dynamism now.
It is United’s biggest problem – how to get creativity out of their attacking central midfielder? Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney, Adnan Januzaj, Marouane Fellaini and Memphis Depay have all started Premier League games in that position; none have convinced Louis van Gaal that they are the answer.
In fact, creativity is United’s biggest overall headache. Juan Mata has created more chances than any other United player in the league (48). Next come Wayne Rooney (34) and Anthony Martial (29). After that are Daley Blind and Ander Herrera, with 17.
It is no secret that Mauricio Pochettino has asked for more from Eriksen in terms of his pressing, harrying and running, but it has hardly detracted from the Dane’s ability to create chances for his teammates. To understand the potential impact Eriksen could have on United’s creativity, simply compare his minutes-per-chance created this season vs Van Gaal’s players:
Christian Eriksen – 24.47 (mins per chance created)
Juan Mata – 54.9
Wayne Rooney – 56.0
Anthony Martial – 75.0
Ander Herrera – 77.2
Marouane Fellaini – 99.0
Ashley Young – 101.2
Jesse Lingard – 110.2
Memphis Depay – 123.5
There is a strange correlation between Manchester United strikers scoring a bagful of goals and the club winning the Premier League. That might not sound particularly ground-breaking, but it actually isn’t the norm.
In only nine of the Premier League’s 23 seasons has the Golden Boot winner (or joint winner) also won the title, yet United account for five of those nine. If you explain that simply by United winning more titles than other clubs, think again. United players have won the Golden Boot on only five occasions, yet on each of those occasions they have won the title. Despite the overall hit rate only being 9 out of 23 (39%), for United it is 100%.
Which brings us to Harry Kane, three ahead of his nearest rival at the top of the Premier League scoring charts. With Martial flourishing in a wide forward role, even Wayne Rooney’s staunchest supporters would accept that Kane represents a significant upgrade.
Let’s have another little table, this time based on the number of Premier League goals since the beginning of last season:
Harry Kane – 43
Wayne Rooney – 19
Juan Mata – 14
Ander Herrera – 9
Anthony Martial – 8
Marouane Fellaini – 7
Chris Smalling – 4
And now let’s order that according to minutes per goal (minimum five goals):
Harry Kane – 125.8
Wayne Rooney – 251.6
Anthony Martial – 271.8
Juan Mata – 333.4
Ander Herrera – 353.3
Marouane Fellaini – 388.7