Manchester United are being linked with a major move for Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
The Crystal Palace right-back had an absolutely sensational season and lit up the league despite Palace on the whole not being all that great. Wan-Bissaka is just 21-years-old and has only been in the team for a season and a half but plays with a maturity and quality well beyond those years and limited experience.
United have allegedly had a bid turned down but the rumoured £60m asking price is well within their range. There is no doubt that the Croydon youngster would be a ferocious addition to Manchester United, to the point where he would actually help the side solve some major problems (or at least mostly solve those problems). What are they? Read on!
1. A stale right flank
However you feel about the contributions of Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young to Manchester United’s cause over the years, there can be no arguments that the United right-flank is incredibly stale. There’s not really a better word for a team that until very recently was playing a right-back who was starting for the club when Bacary Sagna was still a fresh face at Arsenal.
Valencia and Young both joined United as wingers but ended up filling the void that the succession of oddballs that succeeded Sir Alex Ferguson created by refusing to have the courage of conviction to start Rafael or Fabio in the position because of their supposed defensive frailties. Diogo Dalot was meant to be a brand new prospect but bar That Night In Paris he plays the game with the same sense of hopeless lethargy that plagues Matteo Darmian’s performances, another dull as dishwater right-back.
Those oddballs also turned the right-wing slot into a wasteland, too. First Wilfried Zaha was never given a chance, with Juan Mata signed to fill the spot halfway through the David Moyes tenure. But Mata is no winger, so the flank was often vacated. There have been moments where Jesse Lingard has looked like becoming a fully-fledged winger, but things nearly always revert back to Mata, cutting in and dithering as United’s now trademark lack of movement (until Solskjaer) grinds play to a halt.
Wan-Bissaka would be a searing shot in the arm for the United’s right-flank. He’s young and dynamic in a way that United haven’t been on the right-flank since the days of the Da Silva twins. Seeing him play right-back would be genuinely exciting, because he can both run with the ball and also defend by himself. Would his delivery match up? Who knows, but it’d be fun watching him try.
2. An overwhelming lack of quality
In addition to being boring, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young simply aren’t very good. They were good wingers a decade ago, but now they’re terrible full-backs. Valencia is a ghost and Young, whilst he is capable of the odd performance (especially in big games) simply isn’t reliable defensively or offensively. Diogo Dalot is a decent prospect but nothing about him jumps out at you and screams “superstar” – he seems more like a solid prospect.
Wan-Bissaka, meanwhile, is utterly absurd. He is to winning duels what Trent Alexander-Arnold is to creating chances. The Kanchelskis to Alexander-Arnold’s Beckham, if you will. The youngster is the only player in the Premier League to register more than 60 tackles won, dribbles completed and interceptions.
Wan-Bissaka’s stat-line for the season sees him rack-up 84 interceptions (2nd in PL), 61 dribbles (10th in PL) with a 60.4% success rate and a barely believable 90 tackles won (2nd in PL) with a 69.77% success rate. Moreover he was only dribbled by 10 times, which is 3rd in the division among players who have contested 50 tackles or more. And it’s worth pointing out that Wan-Bissaka has attempted more than twice as many tackles, 129, as the two men above him.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka's Premier League season by numbers:
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 12, 2019
Basically Wan-Bissaka combines almost everything you’d want from a defensively solid right-back. He isn’t a dynamic chance creator but part of that was the team he was playing in. With his dribbling skills there’s even chance that his creativity could take a huge boost when put into a more offensive side, but one thing is certain he will make United so, so much better defensively.
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3. Tactical limitations
Manchester United are pretty limited from a tactical point of view. Thanks to years of terrible, disorganised transfers there’s only so many ways that United can line-up and it’s almost impossible for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to shift gears and emphasis on the field without making any substitutions. And in the modern game that’s a real problem. Luke Shaw, for instance, is great going forward but questionable at the back. But how do you unleash him without exposing the defence to being a man down?
Wan-Bissaka solves that problem for United. With Wan-Bissaka’s defensive prowess, United could send Shaw barrelling forward and then simply shift their defence across, with the Englishman acting as a makeshift centre-back in what effectively becomes a back three. It’s an asymmetric solution to a tricky situation but it frees Ole Gunnar Solskjaer up to do so much with his team, changing shape without subs.
Thing is, Wan-Bissaka is such a good defender you could, if you wanted to, just straight-up play 3-5-2 and start him as one of the centre-backs. He has the potential to be Manchester United’s César Azpilicueta in that way, a talismanic defender who can operate in the middle or out wide and brings fantastic tactical variety to his club.
4. A diminishing reputation
Wan-Bissaka’s signing is so important for Manchester United. Not just on the field, but off it as well. Time was when Manchester United went after a player from another English side, with the exception of Liverpool and Man City, they’d be able to get him. They’d certainly have no problem attractive young talent from lower down the league, like Louis Saha in 2004 or Michael Carrick in 2007.
United’s drawing power was such that when Aaron Ramsey turned them down in favour of Arsenal back in 2008 it was genuinely a shock. But at least then it was Arsenal, a side who back when was still relevant in the title scene. And United got their own back on the Gunners by bringing Robin van Persie to Old Trafford four years later, winning the Premier League as a result.
But if Manchester United try and fail to sign Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and everyone knows they have already had one bid turned down, suddenly questions will be asked. If United cannot convince Wan-Bissaka to agitate for a move away from Palace, a club who, with all due respect, are nowhere near the level of even this bedraggled United – then signs are troubling indeed.
With United’s financial might and their ability to offer a huge boost in media profile, as well as the chance to get in on the ground floor of what promises to be a total rebuild of the club and the beginning of a new era, this move should be a no brainer for Wan-Bissaka. But if he elects to stay at Crystal Palace then United’s already waning reputation (especially after Jadon Sancho turned them down due to the lack of Champions League football) will take a colossal hit, one that could negatively impact the rest of their transfer business.