Diogo Dalot was signed as “the world’s best full-back for his age”. Given Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s struggles, now is the time to see what he can do…
Manchester United apparently looked at 804 right-backs when they decided Aaron Wan-Bissaka was the man for them. Which prompts many questions…
Firstly, 804? That seems around 794 too many.
More pertinently, though, how did Wan-Bissaka emerge from such an exhaustive scouting process as genuinely the best man for the Man Utd job when there were four better in the England squad for the European Championships?
Gareth Southgate clearly doesn’t rate Wan-Bissaka for the same reason many United fans don’t. The 23-year-old seems utterly petrified when he crosses the halfway line. In an era when full-backs are among the primary creative influences, Wan-Bissaka has had a hand in ten Premier League goals since moving to Old Trafford for £50million. We’re genuinely surprised the number is that high, given his obvious discomfort when asked to go forward.
Wan-Bissaka’s strength lies in defending. The appeal there for United was obvious given he was signed at a time when the side had just conceded 54 goals in 2018/19 – more than double the number of the top two.
A defender is there to defend first and foremost – at least that’s the case for three-quarters of the Premier League. But at the very highest level, a full-back needs more strings to his bow than simply a slide tackle.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sussed as much after watching schoolboy winger Wan-Bissaka struggle on the ball for two years. United wanted Kieran Trippier in the summer, just not badly enough to pay what Atletico Madrid wanted. But the intention was clear: United know they need to upgrade on Wan-Bissaka at the back.
There is one option which Solskjaer has so far refused to consider: Diogo Dalot.
The Portugal international was hailed as “the best full back in Europe for his age” – Dalot is 22, like Trent Alexander-Arnold – when he was signed by Jose Mourinho in 2018. But since Mourinho’s exit, Solskjaer has seemed hugely reluctant to trust him.
Since October 2019, Dalot has played seven minutes in the Premier League. Seven.
Wan-Bissaka’s presence was one reason for that, as is the fact he spent last season on loan at AC Milan. There, he demonstrated the ability to stay fit throughout a season, which is one thing he struggled to do at Old Trafford.
Now he is back at United, Dalot reckons his chance will come. Hence why he turned down the chance to join Borussia Dortmund or return to Milan this summer. That being true, we have to assume that Solskjaer has offered him some encouragement that minutes will be easier to come by this season.
If not now, when?
Dalot is almost certain to start two games in the coming weeks, against West Ham in the Carabao Cup and Villarreal in the Champions League with Wan-Bissaka banned. But if Solskjaer saw fit to keep Dalot around this summer, then Wan-Bissaka’s struggles make this the right time to give the Portugal international a run of games. Starting at West Ham on Sunday.
In contrast to Wan-Bissaka, Dalot’s strengths can be found in attack, with his defensive game requiring some refinement. But with two centre-backs who don’t need babysitting now at Solskjaer’s disposal, he can afford to allow his right-back to be more adventurous. Especially when the manager seems certain to revert to two holding midfielders.
👀 Diogo Dalot has completed more dribbles (1) than Dan James (0) in the Premier League this season
😂 Dalot has spent one minute on the pitch…
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) August 30, 2021
A full-back who can attack would also benefit Mason Greenwood – or perhaps even Jadon Sancho if Solskjaer ever opts to use the big-money buy in his natural position – because with Wan-Bissaka supporting from the rear, opponents know they don’t have to worry greatly about his threat. Dalot’s darts can create more space for the winger ahead of him.
A game or two on the bench might sharpen Wan-Bissaka’s focus, too. He often appears to cruise through games with the air of a player certain of his place, which has been true for two years, but not because of his form.
Solskjaer may wish he could combine Wan-Bissaka and Dalot into one fully-functioning right-back better suited to the modern game. But having spent two years opting for the defensive choice, now would be a good time to be brave and allow Dalot the opportunity he stayed at United for.