Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been nothing short of a revelation for Manchester United this season and their recent 2-1 derby win at neighbours Manchester City only further enhanced his burgeoning reputation.
The talented 22-year-old right-back was a necessary signing in the summer and joined the Red Devils from boyhood club Crystal Palace, where he had established himself as one of the Premier League’s most resilient defenders. That status has only been improved since his arrival at Old Trafford.
Even when the Red Devils have looked devoid of ideas, with more questions being asked of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men, the south Londoner – along with Marcus Rashford – has remained constant, playing near or at his optimum level. However, it’s worth remembering that he’s still developing and there’s plenty of room for growth.
Wan-Bissaka is nowhere close to being the finished article. He’s still prone to a mistake here and there, but that wasn’t the case at the Etihad Stadium as Man United’s number 29 produced an imperious display against the champions. To describe him as a one-man wrecking crew would be an understatement.
“They just don’t go past him”
A sense of arrogance radiates from Wan-Bissaka; with each passing minute you could see that he was relishing the battle with Raheem Sterling, now widely regarded as one of Europe’s best wingers, but he seldom gave his England teammate – or any other Man City forwards – a sniff.
“Aaron is playing against… it’s Sterling out there, it’s [Riyad] Mahrez out there, it’s [Kevin] De Bruyne out there. And they just don’t go past him,” Solskjaer said.
Although he was dribbled past on no fewer than four occasions, more than anyone on the pitch, it’s part of his ‘no risk, no reward’ mentality, which helps to make him the player he is.
From his side, Wan-Bissaka completed just one take-on, but that’s not why he’s in Solskjaer’s team. As touched upon often, the Croydon-born footballer is a throwback, not one of these modern full-backs who are effectively auxiliary wingers (see national team rival Trent Alexander-Arnold), but someone who enjoys nothing more than defending.
And getting involved as he was against Man City, no one in red touched the ball more times than him (61), though Wan-Bissaka completed 14 of his 25 passes, again illustrating that work still needs to be done. Putting his body on the line, which gets supporters off their feet, is fast-becoming his trademark. He pulled off nine blocks, with five of those stopping a cross, which was the most by a Man Utd player and no doubt impressed his boss in the process.
The lost art of tackling
Man City, who at times looked a shadow of their normal irresistible selves, kept bearing down on David de Gea’s goal, but they had no answer for Wan-Bissaka who registered seven clearances – only central defence pairing Victor Lindelöf (8) and fellow summer recruit Harry Maguire (10) completed more.
If there’s one part of the game Wan-Bissaka is making his own it’s tackling. Yes, for some this is not seen as a ‘quality’, but rather a last resort action, but you still need to have this capability and the youngster has it in abundance. He’s the Premier League’s numero uno and Pep Guardiola saw why first hand. From his nine attempted challenges, Wan-Bissaka completed five, but the numbers don’t provide any justice.
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These are not close your eyes and hope for the best attempts but rather perfectly timed and well-executed, which is something his teammates greatly appreciate. “The one-v-one battles, especially with the full-backs, were unbelievable and Aaron was top notch,” Rashford said of his colleague.
Wan-Bissaka is a reminder that defending, and tackling in particular, is an art that is not in danger of being lost on all full-backs.
So far, he’s won the most tackles in England’s top division (43) and the Red Devils have a real weapon on their hands. If he can improve his attacking endeavours but retain his ‘take no prisoners’ style, then the sky’s the limit.