Tyrell Malacia has been excellent in defence but has provided precisely nothing in attack for Manchester United. Sound familiar? They’ve done it again…
Roughly three years ago, around three months into Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s Manchester United career, I was faced with some very disgruntled Red Devils fans who didn’t take kindly to my suggestion that their club had just spent £50m on a ’90s full-back. I haven’t surfaced this to evidence my journalistic foresight as any digging whatsoever would reveal that SPOT ON OPINION to be an anomaly. No, it’s because Manchester United appear to have made the same mistake again.
“In terms of the physical duel, he was on him. In terms of getting up to him as soon as he took a touch and hitting him, he was there. Whenever he did get past him the odd time in the game he has the pace to cover and get back.”
Rio Ferdinand wasn’t alone in praising Tyrell Malacia to the hilt for his display against Mohamed Salah, and reverence for the £13.5m summer signing hasn’t been limited to that win over Liverpool. He has “locked down” that left side for United alongside Lisandro Martinez.
But that quote from Ferdinand could easily have been describing Wan-Bissaka’s performances at the start of the 2019/20 season. It was then that Wan-Bissaka was called up to the England squad for the first and only time, and Paul Parker, who won two Premier League titles for United at full-back, named him “the best right-back in the Premier League”.
Parker, along with what seemed the majority, dismissed questions over Wan-Bissaka’s ability to attack. “He can learn that, he will get better and better,” Parker said. But he hasn’t and now makes the bench if he’s lucky, with Ralf Rangnick and now Erik ten Hag preferring Diogo Dalot, who offers far more on the front foot.
After the defeats to Brentford and Brighton at the start of the season, United were in crisis mode. Luke Shaw started those first two games at left-back, and Malacia was seen as blessed relief in a defence that had looked incredibly vulnerable. But Malacia replacing Shaw coincided with Raphael Varane coming in for Harry Maguire, which was probably the more impactful change.
And Shaw has reasserted himself over Malacia in the last week, replacing his competition at left-back at half-time in both the Manchester derby and the Europa League win over Omonia, before earning his first start for two months in the 2-1 win over Everton.
Asked after the 3-2 win in Cyprus on Thursday why he had taken Malacia and Jadon Sancho off at half-time, Ten Hag said: “It was the movement with our ball, the width on the left side, for me was no good first half. The movement from behind the defending line, so I hoped with Luke and Marcus we could get more effect from that and in my opinion that happens.”
Malacia has created next to nothing for Manchester United since his arrival at the club. Only David de Gea and Victor Lindelof (who’s barely played) have fewer shot-creating actions per 90 – Shaw has 2.34 to Malacia’s 0.20. The Dutchman has had one shot, he’s made no key passes and he’s not completed a pass or a cross into the box. Wan-Bissaka is a defensive full-back but this guy is a whole new level.
It won’t be a problem for United in the short term if Luke Shaw is indeed returning to form, as he appears to be – Ten Hag can make horses for courses selections with two very different left-backs. But reversion to ‘bad Luke Shaw’ is seemingly always round the corner and when his form turns the United boss will have no option but to play Malacia and effectively disregard attacks being built from left-back in games where the onus is on them to turn possession into chances.
If Malacia, like Wan-Bissaka, fails to improve his attacking output and is snubbed for that reason, his relatively low transfer fee will spare United’s blushes in comparison to his fellow ’90s full-back, over whom they received many a cutting jibe from fans of the 15 or so clubs with better and far cheaper English right-backs.
But it will mean United will need to dip into their transfer coffers again next summer to remedy a problem position which remains a problem. The early optimism was glowing but short-sighted over Malacia as it was with Wan-Bissaka. He’s a good defensive full-back but that’s it and that won’t be enough.